The notion here is a simple one. The maths, figuring out how to do something, the equations and algorithms – all that stuff – is easy. It's just calculations and fabrication. We have a pretty good idea of the size of the sandbox we work in, and what we need to do to build ever-bigger sand castles.
But most of those who worked with Von Braun felt that he was a genius. Alan Lovelace, acting director of NASA, described the handsome German as "a 20th century Columbus who pushed back the new frontiers of outer space with efforts that enabled his adopted country to achieve pre-eminence in space exploration." Colleague Ernst Stuhlinger considered him an excellent engineer with an almost uncanny ability to visualize both a problem and its solutions, and a brilliant leader who could transmit his enthusiasm to others. Stuhlinger's admiration is understandable. When someone asked Von Braun what it would take to build a rocket to reach the moon, Von Braun replied simply: "The will to do it."
But the one thing that you can't control for, and endanger every project is the whining and squealing from the people involved, that such work is hard. Why should we spend so much effort getting to the moon? We don't need to hurry or anything, the moon isn't going anywhere…
Poison, all of it. True, sure. But nobody ever got anything done by saying they wanted to do it and then backing out of doing it when they encountered their first 8.5 hour day or had somebody call their bluff. It happens all the time, and sadly it seems to happen more, and more effectively, in teams which are more metastasized (Larry Wall is famous for quoting Jack Cohen – although I am relying on Jarkko here – "Biologists have a word for 'stable': it is 'dead'."). They have channels of communication which go beyond the normal intra-team discussions; cliques form, and then two of fifteen people are talking about taking sides on a dispute in a forum the other thirteen aren't privy to. The more this happens, the more a tit-for-tat, my-loyalty-for-less-work exchange, the more the success and growth of the team is endangered.
It's a sad irony that often times the hard-chargers, the von Brauns and Jon Orwants out there, are not at all concerned with "who's to blame," or who should be doing the work. Rather, these people want the work done. They have those algorithms and maths worked out. They know exactly what needs to be done. If people could forget, just for a minute, that saying "the CO2 scrubbers aren't effective enough" does not equate to saying "the CO2 scrubber team has not done their job," they could move on. Instead, they worry that they might be found at fault, that somebody is pointing a finger at them, when, in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody else wants to work on the CO2 scrubbers; they have their own hands full with heat shielding and cockpit layout.
That paragraph may seem to boil down to "ends are important, not means." It is perhaps an overly-simplistic way of viewing things. But, when one sets their goal as simply as "getting men on the moon," (and I did just say that it's simple) at what point do we stop caring about means and worry more about the size of our sandbox, the physics and math, and just do what it takes, damn the torpedoes, to get there? Why must there be continual braying and squealing about things being hard or so-and-so already has enough work to do without this CO2 scrubber nonsense. Can't we just make 88% of our goal and be done with it?
Well, no. At some point, people need to grow up and realize the goal is important, and the mission is more important than the means used to accomplish it. How often have we made these decisions in last-ditch midnight conference calls? How often have you heard, "yeah, I know it's not the right way to do it, but for expediency's sake, we need to"? Why not take this attitude earlier on in the project when things are going afoul and the mules are complaining? Why wait until the last minute before damning the consequences?