Lessons from an International Space Commander

27 January, 2016

Last week I went to Symphony Hall with a friend of mine to see Chris Hadfield, the astronaut.
He started off by talking about how as a boy (like many other boys I guess) he wanted to be an astronaut, but being Canadian the chances were non-existent, as Canada had no space program. Anyway it was yet another story about how someone succeeds in living their dream against all odds through persistence and tenacity.
The way he achieved what he wanted in life was impressive, but there was something he said that that struck a much deeper cord with me. This was it:
As commander of the International Space Station he was told that during his six month stay they would be upgrading the software. He was given four months’ notice and several times a week he would be reminded of the imminent upgrade and told to take all the necessary steps to prepare for it. Obviously travelling at 17,500 miles an hour around the planet it’s really important that you do actually undertake this preparation!
Ground control had run every possible test they could across all the different countries with the thousands of geniuses involved for YEARS to ensure the software upgrade had no bugs. Remember - the space program is a multi-billion dollar industry with thousands of the best minds across the globe working towards its goals.
On the day of the upgrade Chris and his fellow astronauts disconnected the laptops and equipment in preparation for ground control to undertake the upgrade. What happened next is something that I (a long time ago) accepted could happen...
The upgrade killed the power on the ISS, all communication and its ability to maintain ‘state’ directional control. In effect all controls and communication between the ISS and earth were terminated, the upgrade had gone wrong and the space station travelling at 17,500 miles an hour was on its own.
Puts the development issues with our new sales tablet into perspective!!
One of an astronaut’s key qualities is to remain calm and in control under ALL circumstances. The crew didn’t blame anyone, they maintained their state of minds and manually rebooted the ISS from space and reconnected the craft with ground control. The prep, practice and control of their personal state gave them everything they needed to take full responsibility and continue with their mission.
Eventually the upgrade happened and things progressed.
Churchill said that success comes from making mistakes and learning from them…I believe that you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs  AND if you focus on the omelette rather than the broken egg you can get what you set out to get.
I can’t recommend Chris Hadfield and his books enough.