Life lessons from an astronaut

The other day, I saw Miles O’Brien of PBS Newshour interview astronaut Mike Massimino about his new book Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.” What was moving about this interview is Massimino tells the story in his book how becoming an astronaut was not easy for him.

He notes he had to apply to be an astronaut four times before being given the opportunity. When O’Brien asked him what he would be doing had he not become an astronaut, he said “applying for a fifth time.” Here is a man who is still afraid of heights and cannot swim very well, yet he became one of the very few people who have ever flown in space. He saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and decided that is what he wanted to be and did not let his shortcomings stand in the way.

He also notes he had struggles all through training, which he highlights in the book. Here is his response to O’Brien about his question on dealing with his setbacks.

“I think you’re right, yes. It’s not a question of being the best at something or things coming easy to you, but it’s being a person that can work with others and not give up. And, for me, that was part of it too.

At every step of the way, when I had trouble, there were people that came in, in my life that helped me. It’s important to go seek help when you need it, and to give help when other people need it. And that is really more important than coming in with a gigantic brain into the astronaut program.”

To me, there is no better life lesson than what Massimino says in these two paragraphs. Just because someone is not the best at something or that things do not come easy to him (or her), does not mean he (or she) cannot be successful or achieve a goal. The second paragraph is telling as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The only price is to pay it forward and help others.

A link to the entire interview follows:

18 thoughts on “Life lessons from an astronaut

    • Hugh, my wife and I watched this interview and agreed that this was as good a life lesson as any we have heard. It has always fascinated me that the athletes who had to work the hardest to master their craft often turned out to be the better coaches. Keith

      • The ones for whom it “comes easy” have no idea how to teach. That’s true in academia as well as sports! One must struggle in order to understand what others are going through.

    • I agree with your addendum as some of the worst teachers I have witnessed had trouble understanding why students didn’t get it. The best ones were patient and encouraging.

  1. Note to Readers: Seeing Massimino’s comment about asking for help reminds me of our encouragement to our children when they went off to college. Ask your professors for help when you need it. They will at least know you are trying and will be glad to help. If you don’t and do poorly, they will assume you don’t care.

  2. Note to Readers: If you have few more minutes, click on the suggested read at the bottom of this post called “The Porch People.” It did not get much viewing the first time around, but seems more relevant and needed today.

  3. Dear Keith and friends,

    I love this advice. Most of us have obstacles to overcome to reach our goals but that just puts us in a situation where we can help folks going through similar hurdles.

    For a lot of young folks starting out, asking for help is one way to find a mentor, which is invaluable in a new job.Then pass this favor on to other newbies.

    I have often wondered if the truly disabled person is the one who has never had to struggle to test his/ or her mettle.’s obstacles do come their way. they are truly unprepared, .

    Ciao, Gronda

    • Gronda, thanks. There is no better teacher than failing at something, if we choose to learn from it. Someone who succeeds easily may not realize how he did it and cannot replicate it under different circumstances. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: Massimino’s comment about the value of collaborating with others speaks volumes. Even if idea creation is borne by a sole inventive mind, at some point collaboration is needed to make the idea happen.

  5. Note to Readers: My wife and I watched the first two episodes of “Mars” on National Geographic. It is directed by Ron Howard and it pivots between a drama set in 2033 of the first human space mission and 2016 where real life scientists, astronauts and visionaries speak of the real plans to send people to Mars. Elon Musk, of course, is part of the effort, but they also interview astronauts Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 and Scott Kelly, who just returned from a year in space to see how our bodies can handle that length of time. It also reveals the collaboration Mike Massimino notes above. It is worth the watch.

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