An Astronaut’s View on Overcoming the Challenges of Separation and Sheltering in Place
Over the past few months a common joke I hear from family and friends is: “Hey Mike, I bet you wish you were in space now!” As a former NASA astronaut with two space shuttle missions and four spacewalks worth of experience, I am finding that my ...
Over the past few months a common joke I hear from family and friends is: “Hey Mike, I bet you wish you were in space now!” As a former NASA astronaut with two space shuttle missions and four spacewalks worth of experience, I am finding that my NASA training and space flights have helped to prepare me for what we are now all going through. I am familiar with feeling separated from the Earth, sheltering in space with my crewmates, executing our mission with our ground control team back on the planet, coping with loss and tragedy, not letting fear get in the way of success, and being resilient to overcome unforeseen challenges while away from traditional support systems. When I was selected for the NASA Astronaut Class of 1996, astronauts were preparing to be sent to space for longer periods of time and increasingly challenging missions. It became apparent to NASA that this transition in space exploration was not going to be an easy one for the crew members and their families. We looked to endeavors with similar challenges, such as polar exploration, to help us prepare to engage with isolation and hardship. Some of our guidelines were: embracing the situation as best we could; concentrating on meaningful work and developing hobbies; keeping open the lines of communication between friends, family and co-workers back on Earth; enjoying the beauty of our planet; keeping a regular schedule, including an emphasis on exercise, hygiene, and health; putting the well-being of our crewmates first by being respectful and practicing good “expedition behavior” while sharing our living area; being flexible to handle unexpected challenges while away from our normal channels for help; and using time away from the hustle and bustle of our normal daily routines to think introspectively about our lives.
I am very grateful that I can help people and organizations get through this difficult time with relatable stories that illustrate lessons learned and provide takeaways to call upon when inspiration and hope is needed, while also mixing in the wonders of spaceflight and a bit of humor. I enjoy tailoring each talk to effectively connect with the specific audience. My traditional messages of persistence, leadership, and teamwork are still paramount in these stories, and drive home my experiences that our finest moments can come out of our most challenging times.