Ground Control to Major Tom

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The audience at the Dublin Tech Show 2019 fell silent and slipped into awe as it listened to the man who broke into Mir using a Swiss Army Knife, flew into Earth orbit three times, was Commander of the International Space Station (ISS), has spent 166 days in space and was the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space: NASA Colonel, Chris Hadfield.

Hadfield dived straight into his keynote 'Extreme Leadership', posing the question: How can we push technological ideas to the limit to face the problems of today?

"Well, it requires leadership to solve the problems for the 7.5bn people on Earth," Hadfield answered. "It requires an audaciousness of vision and someone willing to imagine something that has hasn't happened yet, and then to figure out how to make it happen. That is the essence of leadership."

Hadfield used the late US President John F. Kennedy as a paragon of leadership, referencing the speech in which he laid out his ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade: "He said, 'We choose to do something different. We choose to go to the moon. Not because it's easy, because it's hard.' When JFK delivered his speech May 25th, 1961 in front of the US government and the US people. When JFK said this, the US had a grand total of one space flight lasting 15 minutes and 26 seconds, which didn't even make it into orbit."

Hadfield continued, explaining that President Kennedy has recognised that it was the pushing of new technology, not just an incremental continuation, and vision that was needed to meet the challenges of today.

"You are Neil, Mike and Buzz [Neil Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module Pilot]," Hadfield addressed the audience,"taking someone's big, highfalutin ideas and making it a reality. The essence of leadership is the dissatisfaction of the normal, and the day-to-day work of making your ideas happen.

These three had to take these crazy ideas and change who they were to make it happen. The example they set and their leadership if what changed everybody."

The moon landing was viewed by an estimated 600 million people around the world. Hadfield was one of those viewers, but what impressed him was the people, seeing someone pushing themselves beyond what anybody thought they could possibly do.

"As Neil's [Armstrong], Eagle [Apollo Lunar Module Eagle] ship undocked and came to the surface of the moon, it pitched over with a whole 8k of memory," Hadfield laughed. "But when they got there, they had got it wrong based on the images from Earth and the orbiting station. They couldn't land because the surface of the moon had boulders and they would have crashed, but they had billions of people watching and a Holy Grail to accomplish. So, what do you do next?"

Your life is the sum total of all the little things you chose to do next.

"Neil grabbed hold of the Eagle and changed the plan, he manually found somewhere to land - and he turned the engine off with only 16 seconds of fuel left," Hadfield said.

Hadfield's journey into space began that day, following the monumental inspiration of the first Moon landing. Hadfield went on to join the Air Cadets and at the age of 15, he won a glider pilot scholarship. In 1978 he joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a fighter pilot. By the early 1990s, Chris Hadfield had flown more than 70 different kinds of aircraft. Then one day, in June 1992, he was flicking through the classified adverts and somewhere after 'architects' there was an advert 'Wanted - Astronauts'.

Out of the 5,330 people who applied, Hadfield was one of the four chosen. "We had been chosen because we had all been inspired by Neil [Armstrong] and had decided as kids to change who we were on a daily basis to get closer and closer to the person we wanted to become in our dreams.

"As a leader you should have a perpetual dissatisfaction of your own level of competence. Even if you're great now, just wait six months and you'll be rusty or someone will be better than you. Always try and get better."

Hadfield was sent to Houston with 23 others, "we were all different people, but all inspired to make ourselves people otherwise thought impossible."

We have lift off

In December 2012 Hadfield embarked on a mission to the International Space Station for five months: "I flew the space shuttle twice. Just, the crazy power of it! When the engines are consuming fuel at twelves tonnes a second! The raw, ugly, brute force of it! It's just a stupid way to do anything," Hadfield laughed. "The Space Shuttle had 80 million horsepower.

"It was like riding a tuning fork. It is stiff and powerful and you are in the centre of the tornado of activity. You have been training your whole life to wrestle this thing into orbit and there are 10,000 ways it will try and kill you in the next eight minutes.

"It's crazy as it [the space shuttle] jams through the atmosphere with essentially these two white rockets strapped on either side, and their job is to get you above air. They burn for two minute. They are tubes of solid explosive and when they are lit, you cannot shut them off. They cannot be throttled down or jesttisoned. When they are lit - you are going somewhere!"

You have to be an optimist to fly a rocket ship

"After two minutes they [the rockets on the space shuttle] have done their job and they explode off and fall into the ocean," Hadfield explained. "Now are accelerating away and in 120 seconds you are way above the air. Now it is just the liquid engines pumping hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidiser, it goes from crazy rough to crazy smooth but everything is getting heavier.

"You are getting crushed more into your seat and the vehicle accelerates so, it could tear itself apart!

"Then after eight minutes and 42 seconds exactly, the computer gets the shuttle in the right direction, speed and altitude and the engines shut off. And you are weightless.

Impossible things happen every day

Hadfield spoke about how even the mobile phones we take for granted were once thought to be impossible, and now we all have a communication and location device with a high-end camera in our pocket - and we moan when drop it.

The International Space Station (ISS) consists of 15 nations that, "do not get along", Hadfield said. "However you take the same players and give them a different leadership challenge, and they can build the first human settlement off the planet.

"The year 2000, was the first year humans stopped living only on the Earth. The ISS is a hundred thousand ideas bolted together to do something that we couldn't before. But inside - it is so much fun.

"It's weird when you come back," Hadfield laughed. "You wonder why everyone is stuck to the floor. But in space you are suddenly free from the tyranny of gravity."

What type of leadership doesn't take to command the ISS?

"Only one," said Hadfield. "The whole world's human space programme is counting on the ISS."

Hadfield went on to explain that the first step in leadership is to change who you are, to be somebody worth following. When the moment arrives there will be no time then to do the research or to ask anyone for help, he said.

"Talk to your team, and ask, what are we trying to accomplish? If this goes perfectly, what will this look like? If they don't know what victory truly looks like then the odds of them making a good individual decision is much diminished."

The second step is to constantly be checking back, to be prepared for every scenario and to understand your team. "Set a clear goal and get everybody to understand and buy into it. Give opportunities to continuously learn skills. Try over and over again with constant communication and feedback so that when the moment arrives you have a chance of collectively winning."

However, as Hadfield admitted, "stuff breaks", explaining that twenty percent of the time is spent fixing and maintaining the machine. In this scenario, for Hadfield on the ISS, "Earth is just a help desk. They are super experienced but they're not there risking their lives.

"Visualising success is puppies and birthday cake. What astronauts do as a living is visualise failure - that's leadership."

Hadfield recommended to ready yourself for failure by practising these scenarios with your team when things are quiet. The only reason Hadfield and his team were able to fix an ammonia leak on board the ISS was because they have visualised 10,000 failures and practised how to fix them, so when they needed to, they were calm and competent.

What are the next big challenges in space flight?

"The launch is still our biggest obstacle," Hadfield said. "It is crazy dangerous. That's why we need people with tenacity and audaciousness - like the tech entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who have all started rocket companies. We need these crazy people!"

In particular, Hadfield highlighted Musk's innovation: "It's a cool idea. He look at the space shuttles and said 'that's a nice idea, but it's a 60s idea, why let the rockets fall to the ocean? We have had so many great inventions since then and learned a lot about aerodynamics. Instead, let's fly the rockets back, land them and use them again.'

"The rockets are worth around US$35m dollars - each. If that kind of money was falling from the sky, everyone here would run out to try and catch it. This is what Musk challenged himself to do - and yes it will fail, but it was going to fall into the ocean anyway so why not try and land it on a barge?"

According to Space Intel Report, 'The first re-flight was accomplished in March 2017, nearly a year after the booster's maiden flight; the second was in June 2017, only five months after its maiden flight. Both were successful, and both insurers and launch service customers are readily supporting the newly emerging market in launch services provided by multiple-use boosters.'

"Early success is a terrible teacher," said Hadfield. "Everyone as a leader should be looking for early failure while risk is still low before you start putting people on the rockets! Elon went from crazy, to 'getting away with it once', to owning the world's launch market it ten year because he was willing to stand up with audaciousness and vision, to drive his team and be willing to fail over and over again."

Talking further about the snowballing advances in space technology, Hadfield referred to how NASA had recently for the first time directly imaged a black hole, how on New Year's Day 2019, the Chinese landed on the far side of the moon, opened a greenhouse and sprouted cotton seeds on the moon, and how it has been discovered on the north-side of the moon there is water. "We are right at the cusp of all of this," Hadfield said.

"NASA recently announced that the technology is now good enough to have a reasonable change of living somewhere not Earth, not just for a camping trip. It seems crazy and impossible, but just the same as everything else always did.

"Challenge people, say something outlandish and then make it happen. We need these advances in technology because we have serious problems to solve, but we can do it. We just need the will and leadership to actually make it happen, and we need to come up with better solutions.

"We need children to see undeniably different examples than when we were little, we need people doing radically different things. Neil Armstrong gave me permission to make Chris Hadfield a completely different person."

Hadfield finished by telling the audience how the NASA psychiatrist had placed a guitar in the ISS to help with the crew's mental wellbeing, he then concluded his keynote by giving a live, impromptu performance of 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie, against a backdrop of his space flight montage.


'Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God's love be with you

Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Lift off

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you...

Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do'