Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Some Thoughts from a Former Astronaut

One of the benefits of working at NASA is occasional visits from our astronauts. These are truly amazing people. I admit to being bored by and distrustful of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs, but the resumes of these people are just amazing. Today's visitor was Eileen Collins, who has a whole list of firsts to her credit: first female Shuttle pilot, first female Shuttle commander, first to command a Shuttle mission after the Columbia disaster. She's a serious hero (okay, heroine--pick your word).

Collins has since left the astronaut corps to spend time at home with her kids. That meant she talked to us as a civilian and without the traditional blue astronaut jump suit. I found the combination refreshing because she wasn't there (mostly) as part of her job, but as herself.

The theme and purpose of her visit was safety, and she had some good lessons there. However, what interested me most were her comments about the space program in general. Here are some of the quotations I took down:
  • "People who know what they're doing still make mistakes."
  • "The biggest fear of an astronaut is making a mistake."
  • "There is risk in spaceflight, and we all know that."
  • "Maybe my way isn't always the best way."
  • "My best training for being a Shuttle commander is being a mother." (Groan)
  • "Put [a] mistake behind you and, with confidence, go on." (Right on!)
  • "[The space program is] an investment in the future of our country."
  • "Psychological support is important...we had astronauts up there who lost friends on 9/11."
  • "Some day, [an asteroid strike] will happen again."
  • "The age of someone can be determined by the amount of pain they feel by encountering a new idea."

Anyhow, I have yet to see an inarticulate astronaut. They might send these folks to speech class or "charm school," for all I know, but all of them--even Lisa Nowak, when she visited before her crack-up--have a confident stage presence. Nevertheless, they deserve our respect. Eileen Collins has mine.

No comments: