On May 16, 2011 I witnessed the final launch of the Endeavor Shuttle just 3 miles away from the launch pad. This is as close as any civilian ever gets. It was a truly moving experience. Somehow I cannot seem to find the words to do justice to the experience.
What I can share with you are a few principles for life and leadership that I took away from my NASATweetup experience. They are for the most part timeless bits of wisdom we all too often forget. I am grateful to be reminded through this incredible opportunity.
As you read through the principles below ask yourself this question:
“What might be possible in my life, my family, my community and/or my organization if I were to live and lead with these principles in mind?”
1. Never Stop Exploring
Leland Melvin (@Astro_Flow on twitter) shared that when he first became an astronaut John Glenn said to him: “If we stop exploring, we will falter as a civilization.”
The astronauts, scientists, and engineers who came to talk with us at the NASA Tweetup on April 28 and 29th reminded us of the many discoveries of the past and possibilities for the future from space exploration.
It is in pushing past the edge of our limitations as individuals and as a civilization that we continue to discover not just who we really are, but also who we can be and what we can do. It is in making the impossible possible and through the wonder of discovery that we continue to fuel our hope for our future despite the problems of today.
2. Never Stop Dreaming AND Never Stop Believing in Your Dreams
A 13 year old girl who goes by the twitter handle, @AstronautAbby, accompanied by her mom @SocialNicole, unexpectedly joined an informal post launch celebration with a few engineers from the launch team.
She introduced herself as one of the first astronauts who will go to Mars. One of the engineers smiled and said to her: “never stop dreaming”. The Astronauts who came to talk with us during the tweetup also reminded us of the importance of dreaming, as well as believing in ourselves and our dreams.
One shared that many people told him, including a taxi driver one day, that he could never be an astronaut. I wonder how many dreams have been undermined by off handed or even well meaning remarks. I was inspired by both Abby and her dream and her mom’s unwavering support of her dream despite the obvious risks!
3. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again
On April 29th 150 NASA Tweetup participants lined the road in front of the VAB to see the Astrovan drive by carrying the astronauts to the launch pad. The van made a U Turn. When we heard someone say that has never happened we knew it was not a good sign. 150 people who had traveled from 43 states and 6 countries were about to be very disappointed.
The same is true of any extraordinary possibility we pursue. And that it is hard is key to what can make the journey so rich and the accomplishment so satisfying. Even failure can be satisfying when we know in our hearts that today’s failure is one step closer to success.
80 of those original 150 found a way to return for the launch knowing it could get scrubbed again. The privilege and opportunity to be present for a significant moment in human history was worth doing whatever it took to be there. Last minute travel is never easy or cheap. Tornados, torrential rains and floods didn’t make it any easier. One woman’s home had been destroyed by a tornado just before departing. She came anyway.
4. Learn from Your Mistakes
In the moment of Endeavor’s lift off everything seemed to work perfectly. It was as magnificent to feel the intense vibration seemingly coming from within me, as it was to watch.
For a moment we forgot, and some didn’t know in the first place, that the Endeavor was built to replace the Challenger, the shuttle that had exploded 73 seconds after takeoff on January 29, 1986. 7 lives were lost and the US Space Program began a 32 month hiatus
The Rogers Commission, appointed by President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident, found that NASA‘s organizational culture and decision-making processes had been a key contributing factor to the accident. In talking with members of the Launch Team following the launch I learned just how significant and swift the change in culture was at that time. Among the specific changes made was this one: rather than be punished for making or identifying a mistake you are celebrated. Some believed it led to the extraordinary teamwork they experience and cherish today.
In this case learning from this mistake not only saved lives and the program for the future, it was also a way to honor those whose lives were lost.
5. Extraordinary Accomplishment is Never a Solo Endeavor.
6 astronauts lifted off at 8:56 am EDT on May 16, 2011 traveling 1300 mph on the Endeavor Space Shuttle. In the final hours of preparation for lift off there was a great deal of attention on the astronauts’ final preparation. It is natural to focus on the lead players – in this case the astronauts. Yet the lives of those astronauts and a successful mission were in the hands of a team of highly skilled, incredibly focused and determined individuals.
It takes exceptional collaboration and teamwork to invent and navigate the path to such an extraordinary success. While we naturally congratulate the obvious heroes, the astronauts, we must not forget that those heroes put their lives in the hands of a team whose names most of us will never know and faces we will never see. The success is everyone’s to share and celebrate.
Now I want to hear from you. What is one of your dreams for your future? How might you apply any of these principles to make your dream come true?
P.S. To see more pics that capture the NASA Tweetup Experience click here and go over to Kiran’s blog – she did a great job of capturing our launch experience including our trip to the launch site the day before. The first picture is from her post.
P.P.S. To apply to be part of the NASA Tweetup for the final launch click here between noon June 1 and noon June 2 EDT to apply.