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How to Be the Best Leader for the 2nd Space Age: Lessons on Leadership I Learned from Flying

How to Be the Best Leader for the 2nd Space Age: Lessons on Leadership I Learned from Flying

A Letter to Millennials

The world watched a grainy TV image relayed back to Earth from about 250,000 miles
away: The first human was slowly descending a spacecraft ladder to step onto another world. It
would be referred to forevermore as “one small step” and is one of most remarkable leaps in the
history of space.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of that monumental leap. Looking ahead, the next
steps we take will be no less inspiring: We will return to the Moon by the early 2020s, but not
just to land. The next time we will stay, preparing for a new giant leap into the next space age.
When astronauts go to the Moon in the coming years they will establish a lunar-base as a
gateway for human flight to Mars.

These goals are bold and you, our Millennials, will help achieve them. There are many
skills needed for success. Among them are creativity, initiative, and most importantly, strong
leadership. What will YOU need to do to lead successfully for the 2 nd space age?

The first thing: Follow your passion.

Your passion will inspire you and will be your best teacher. My passion is flight. Ever
since I was a kid, I was captivated by the air and loved it like nothing else except for space, a close second. When I began taking my first flight lessons, it never occurred to me that I was
learning more than flying. While I was working at becoming a pilot, it didn’t occur to me that I
was learning how to be a strong leader too: Flying airplanes made me face myself and problems
in new ways and challenged me to overcome obstacles inside and outside. The lessons learned
would help me to learn to be creative in challenging situations and lead others to discover their
own new ideas. Later, because of flying, new doors opened to enterprises in space that inspired
me to invent a successful space station project for college students and to help solve other
problems by developing new products for spaceflights. I love what I do. The single most
important thing you can do to begin your journey as a leader is to choose what you love to do.

Flying and leading have several common practices .

Flying and leadership have several common practices. First, I learned the concepts of
flight, but knowing the concepts weren’t enough. The real learning is in the flying itself, meeting
unexpected challenges, and finding out I could do more than I thought I could. Here are some are
some key features that helped to make my dream a reality and taught me key leadership skills. It
is my leadership philosophy that I learned from flying. I see these skills demonstrated by leaders
in aerospace today and will be needed by tomorrow’s leaders, like you:

1. Think creatively. Having good ideas comes from continually learning, understanding
problems that need solving, and embracing a creative-thinking approach.

Continually learn. Choose to be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. Be willing to learn from
doing and living with uncertainty—the place where creativity really comes to life. An example
from flying was the time I prepared for many days to take my first long-distance solo flight as a student pilot–making note cards of all procedures I would use, practicing contacts and frequencies, checking weather, assuring the right weight and balance of my small aircraft, a Cessna 152. Everything was ready, right? Then shortly after takeoff, all my notes blew away–behind the seat, out the window, and out of reach. But I had learned backup options and quickly started using them to accomplish the goal. I learned that knowing the basics well will need some creative thinking to deal with unexpected events. (I still wonder if those cards are still in treetops of the central valley.)

Understand the problem to solve. You will need to innovate to keep you and your company or team in the game. But be sure to fully understand the problem first. Making something great is the goal, said Ed Catmull from Pixar (2014), but defining the right problem is the most important thing to do before jumping in with good ideas and solutions. There may be more than one way to solve a problem but understanding it first lets you exercise your creative thinking. Knowing the right problem to solve sets up the goal and the priorities to follow. In flying, when there’s a problem, a pilot is taught to say aloud: “Fly the plane.” So, when my airplane’s alternator stopped while I was in midair, that’s what I said: (actually the first thing was “Oh, ___” and swear-like-a-sailor) then, “fly the plane” (the right problem to address: to get the airplane under control), followed by looking at solutions and priorities (such as the possibility of finding a creative new landing place that isn’t swampy and getting there without the benefit of electrical power to communicate.)

Embrace a creative-thinking mindset to get new ideas. New ideas happen when doors to
thinking are open. An open mind-set allows new ideas to emerge for individuals, departments,
and teams to work collaboratively. Pilots work in pairs, as do I, to give additional eyes and
thoughts about what is happening, such as: what to do if the weather changes; if drones buzz the
airplane; if runways have coyotes chasing rabbits. Having additional ideas is helpful, maybe
critical. Creativity-thinking listens to others’ perspectives to produce better outcomes. I most
enjoy teaching young students to fly because their enthusiasm and curiosity increases my own.
That’s one reason I love working with SEDS, the Students for the Exploration and Discovery of
Space. To have an open mindset, be a mentor to someone who may be younger than you are and
exchange and discover how diversity of viewpoints result in new ideas might inspire new
aerospace solutions; outreach is especially needed among underrepresented groups (women and
minorities) who need more inclusion. If you are on a college campus, join SEDS
(, the world’s largest student-run space organization with over 100 campuses.
SEDS will provide you the opportunities to develop your creativity for space projects with
thousands of other enthusiastic students from around the globe and to mentor other students.

2. Doubt and fear are a normal part of the process toward success. Some majors,
degrees, and projects are more difficult to achieve then others. If you are pursuing aviation,
aerospace, or other challenging disciplines, there may be times that you doubt that your goal will be achieved. One of your inevitable challenges will be to manage your doubts or fears and have a support system.

To increase confidence, know the source of fear and get the facts. When I was learning to
fly I was often asked if it was scary. I’d reply truthfully: “Yes.” Then I would add that I’d figure out what was scaring me and commit to learning more about it. In other words, it’s the lack of understanding something that can scare us and keep us from trying. There will be knee-shaking times at school that might lead to you saying: “I-could-be-doing-something-simpler.” But that doesn’t mean you aren’t where you should be or should change your course. Easy is a great feeling but following what’s easy may lead you astray from your first thing, to: doing what you love.

Persist. Getting help is a strong move. I call the local radar stations with questions when I’m
flying solo and want confirmation. Look for support. Keep trying. And by all means, don’t let the fears of others make you turn away from your passion. Bravery is not a lack of fear, but of not letting fear rule your life.

Choose friends who encourage you to stay with it. I had close friends who did not choose to
learn to fly but followed other passions. We respected and encouraged each other’s diverse
dreams. Surround yourself with positive company.

3. Mistakes are part of doing something new. They will also help you be a better leader.
It’s not the goof-ups that happen but what your reactions are to them that really count since
taking risks means sometimes the outcome was not what you expected. Reflect on how you’d do
it differently next time (and there’s always a next time.)

A sense of humor demonstrates optimism, resilience, and that you are approachable. Made a
mistake? We all have blunders. But they teach us a lot about how avoid or survive such pitfalls.
The real measure is what we do after the mistake.

Tell your story with passion. We love to hear stories: tell about yourself, your discoveries,
your inspirations, and even your blunders. Tell about what you used to believe but how
experience may have changed those beliefs. Some scientific hypotheses don’t pan out but still
have something to offer—more data to help us all move forward. You will show your resilience
by how you mustered your resilience and got back up again. When you do your stories will
inspire resilience in others.

If you keep only one thing in mind, it’s this: Follow your passion. We’re going back to the
Moon, then on to Mars: You can be part of that.

Wisdom in the Mountains

Wisdom in the Mountains

These days my mind seems to wander always to my dissertation. There isn’t a moment when I’m not mulling over the challenges of isolation that astronauts will face on long duration space flights. I am working on a solution to demonstrate how a new AI (Artificial Intelligence) can be effective to improve their connectedness with their close family and friends. It is a problem of significant importance to the lives of the astronauts. It is a bold proposition with many challenges. Since my research began two years ago, I have recently learned that I too have become something of a challenge. Apparently, my obsession with space has become understandably irritating to my friends and family. Last week, my husband, Jim, asked me if I could possibly take five minutes and NOT discuss my dissertation. Jim suggested a change in scenery would help us both. I chose to go to our cabin in the mountains near Lake Tahoe; it’s a place where I have always found solace and inspiration and I was hoping this trip would not disappoint.

When we arrived at our mountain retreat, Jim immediately packed his fishing gear and headed to the lake, while I set up my ‘office’ at the kitchen table. I opened my laptop and stared at the screen, braced with a hot cup of coffee in hand, I once again thought of the problems I needed to overcome in order to defend my proposal to my academic committee. Trying to solve intractable problems is not easy and certainly not exciting to Bravo, our 5-month-old Labradoodle who watched patiently at my boring indoor activity. After a couple of hours of hearing him sigh, it was clear Bravo needed to get outside and walk under a beautiful late summer sky, and so did I. I closed up the computer, grabbed his leash and off we went to enjoy the mountains rising above the north shore of Lake Tahoe.

The air was fresh, and the trail opened to the two of us: Bravo energized by smells left by wildlife and I by the mountain ridges of grey granite topped by tenacious alpine timber. The day was warm but not oppressive; there was a light breeze and it was invigorating. We had walked up those dusty trails together a dozen times before, but for Bravo every tree, every rock, every creature’s scent was new and curious. As we meandered, we said ‘hello’ to a pair of hikers who ambled by us. It’s a somewhat untraveled trail, so I find it always a nice surprise to see another person and exchange a pleasantry.

As we entered the main road, we came across two men with an old red pickup truck; the hood was up, but they didn’t seem too concerned. One man was sitting in the shade of the flat bed and the other gentleman was wiping his oil-covered hands with an oil-soaked cloth.
“Hello,” I said, “engine problems?” The older man was probably around 70, but his weathered skin added years to his appearance. His overalls were covered in dirt but the name ‘Hank’ embroidered on the corner of his overalls was still visible.

“Yeah,” he replied, “something with the radiator.” Bravo approached him and when Hank started to reach down to pet him my mouth opened, panicked to think of the oil on his fur. “Well, better not!” said Hank, taking a look at both sides of his hands. “Let’s just say it’s nice to meet you.” I breathed again.

“Have you been stuck long?” I asked.

“A bit,” he said, “we have a job just a-ways down the road, so we’re not too far from where we need to be.”

“Can you fix it?” I asked, but was thinking they were probably waiting for a tow.
He responded still looking Bravo, “I’m sure I can.” I looked back at him perhaps a bit surprised that if he could fix it; it didn’t seem like he was doing anything productive. He grinned a bit, “Just look at this day. Aside from the radiator, it’s perfect in every other way.” I nodded and took a deep breath. He continued, “Some mountain, eh? I grew up on it. You grow up here too?”

I looked at him—someone truly contented even though next to a no-run engine. “No. No, I didn’t grow up here, but found out long ago, when I was small and just a visitor here with my parents, that this place had its hold on me. Now I’m up here a lot more. Sometimes to think about problems that have me stalled too.”

“If you stick with problems long enough, you figure ‘em out. I’ve been with this truck a long time.” He stood up and walked over to the engine, “and I got the tools to fix it; it’s all up here,” and Hank gestured to his head, grinning.

His contentment for life was comforting. “Yeah,” I said, “I’ve been working on a problem too, but I haven’t figured out exactly what it needs to fix it–yet.” Bravo sat down at this point, waiting.

Hank turned around and leaned back on his truck and the sun was hitting his face. “It’ll come to you. My mom used to tell me to take it one step at a time. Just take it apart, one step at a time. I kept that advice all my life and you know what; it works every time.” He gestured to me, pointing at my head, and said, “It’s up there waiting for you. You’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, you got a perfect day to mull it over.”

I looked at him and the sky. Bravo popped up with his tail wagging.

I wished him well and walked on and thought about how few people live as fully in the moment as Hank did and how few people take to heart sage advice given to them by complete strangers. I was very aware of the serendipity of my encounter. To me, it was a divine moment, to hear from a stranger those words of wisdom that would serve me for years to come; words that would have gone unheard had I not stopped along my journey by that broken down truck. The mountains do that— they make you stop and reflect; they prove ageless wisdom in unexpected places and provide hope for those who will take the time to stop and listen.

Bravo pulled ahead on his leash and I picked up the pace. I thought: everything I need is within me and know it will come. I just needed a good reminder. In the meanwhile, I decided to give Bravo some extra leash, so he could discover more of this precious natural world. After all, it was a particularly beautiful day.

The Perfect Mother’s Day

The Perfect Mother’s Day

Last weekend was Mother’s Day. My daughter, Annie, and I decided to spend it together do something we loved: we went to the Sierra to go fly-fishing. Since she was a little girl, we have been fond of the ‘Range of Light’ mountain range. It was dubbed this by conservationist John Muir for the way the light blankets the mountains. For Annie and me, the beauty of this spot keeps us coming back whenever we can find the time in our busy schedules. In truth, it seems those times are fewer and further apart as the years go by. So, I was excited when Annie suggested this bonding ‘Mother-Daughter’ getaway: to catch up with Annie and to catch fish, well that’s just heaven on Earth!

On the car ride up we chattered away like teenagers. I shared the inspirations and perspirations of my doctoral thesis and Annie shared stories of a new job and new boyfriend. As the Bay Area disappeared in our rear view we were soon greeted by the splendor we miss on a daily basis: the pine trees that line the highway, followed by the majestic mountains that open up to reveal the most glorious alpine lake in the country. Arriving at the cabin, some three hours later, you would think we would have run out of things to talk about but, after dinner, we were still gabbing at the fireplace. I am convinced there is something about the air that just makes you want to let everything spill out; but, we knew we had to get up early and reluctantly went to sleep.

Now, the best times to catch trout is very early, or very late, when the temperature suits them and they come up to the surface to feed. Annie and I were in full wading gear, in the Truckee River, during the early hours to greet those fish for breakfast. Of course, you don’t want to make too much of a ruckus or get the lines crossed, so Annie stood a distance downstream of me. If we needed to communicate we could gesture, but you really need to keep things quiet so you don’t scare the fish away. Of course, we are not really that good at fishing so it wasn’t going to make too much of a difference.

People have said there’s spirituality to fly-fishing, more than others type of fishing. I think it’s partly because you are not on the sidelines daydreaming. You are physically in the river. You are immersed, a part of it, and completely in nature. I noticed as I baited my hook that the river was beating gently across my leg; I could smell the vanilla of the Jeffrey pines, and hear the caw of an eagle overhead. I breathed it all in, feeling the magic of the moment in this endless river that eventually finds its way to the sea.

Even though Annie is about 20 feet away suddenly, I am completely alone, immersed in the moment and a part of it. Like flying, my awareness of every move I make in this environment seems hyper-realized to me. I let my fly line float down, cast it out, let it float down again. The line makes an s-loop behind me and reaches forward for a silent drop. The line stretches out across the water. I felt the grace of the movement and saw the beauty of a perfect cast as the river continued to flow around me.

It is so rare that we have these moments with the river, the mountains, and with ourselves. Perhaps through meditation one can experience that hyper-presence, but to my mind, nothing can compare with the personal bond of fly-fishing. Standing in the river, for hours at a stretch, you feel the oneness with nature. I could think of no greater Mother’s Day gift than to share that spectacular sensation with my beautiful daughter. We both were in our own worlds, but appreciating the same beauty that surrounded us together.

Eventually, the sky sent a distant thunder that would end our day in mid-stream. As the raindrops started to fall, we waded back to the banks of the river. While we caught no fish that day, we actually landed something pretty big: we caught up with ourselves. All the running around, minds racing, deadlines approaching and internal (as well as external) chatter all faded away. We found an inner calm by putting the brakes on the constant motion of our days and concentrating on just one motion – casting a perfect line. I would hope that anyone who reads this finds that splendor of solitude, that connection to nature and that unique bonding that can only happen in the middle of a river at dawn. Most of all, find your river, whatever it may be.

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

To all my readers, it is not a shock to hear me say that the best experiences of my life have come to me when I left my comfort zone. When I was a “stay at home mom” and I decided to take flying lessons I knew there’d be some uneasiness but the joy of flight was exponentially greater than my fears. When I was finally a pilot and decided to pursue my dreams further to work in the field of space, the challenges were great but the rewards of seeing my concept of GravityGames actually played aboard the International Space Station was a feeling of wonder that I could not have imagined! The experience I enjoyed last week, was appearing on a two hour LIVE daytime talk show for the Hallmark Channel; and, the anxiety I felt prior to taping was all but erased by the absolute fun and excitement I had on the Home & Family show!

First, I met the most amazing crew and TV personalities including the hosts, the lovely Debbie Matenopoulos and the warm Mark Steines. Everyone involved with the production made me feel so at home – and since the set is in an actual house setting, it really worked!

Then, I sat on their couch in the living room set and got to share my story of transformation. There were other guests on the stage with me as well and they asked me great questions about why I decided to change the direction of my life at 45 and the advice I’d give to others who might want to make a major course correction in their own lives. I got to share with an audience of millions what I wish someone shared with me 30 years ago – to follow your passions and that you CAN achieve your dreams. Age IS just a number and I truly believe that if you have something in your gut that you have always wanted to try – it doesn’t have to be flying it could be – learning a language – there is no reason not to go for it! I went from pilot to space when I was in my fifties! Trust yourself and trust me – you CAN do it.

As I mentioned that I had some discomfort about being on television and my anxiety increased when I learned that I wouldn’t JUST be interviewed for a few minutes, but rather I’d be featured in all their segments for the entire two hour program! SO the next bit I partook in was their cooking segments! I noshed on snacks for Super Bowl parties – coast to coast?! The environment was such that we all were just having such a good time and I truly enjoyed the people on stage with me and having the great Chef Meredith Laurence bake amazing sticky buns for me was a rare treat that I might never have enjoyed had I not just said ‘yes!’

Folks, I am not one for makeup and frills, but yes, I gave in and agreed to do a fashion makeover segment!? Never in my wildest dreams, would I think that could be a pleasant experience for someone who really keeps her wardrobe to jeans and t-shirts, but we find the most remarkable things where we least expect them.

I got a fashion makeover from one of the best style experts in the business, Lawrence Zarian. He determined that I wear heels despite my warnings that nosebleeds may occur at their high altitude. He told me that I could still be me but elevated a bit. Let me tell you, I rocked my look!!! New pants, new shoes, new top, new jacket, new jewelry and the most amazing thing about it all was that I was very comfortable in this new look. I felt stylish, but I felt authentic. I even wrote down all the brands and sizes so I could pick them up later!

Friends, if you have a moment, there’s a clip from the show in my video section and I hope you watch and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed doing it. Let’s all make a point to keep pushing our limits – big or small – because the results can be very surprising!


The Power of Play to Create the Next 100,000 Hours

The Power of Play to Create the Next 100,000 Hours

In our generation, time dedicated to work will amount to about 100,000 hours, hours that make up about 48 years of work. These hours define our lives and often translate into more than an income. During that time we are ‘at work’ we find out about ourselves: what we value, who we want to work with and who we don’t. It can be a time of creativity or a time to look at the clock and count down the minutes till we can leave work. Ask yourself, are you mostly tolerating work, or finding purpose in it? Can you find in your work an opportunity, to discover more about yourself or your capabilities or do you see it as an abyss from which you can draw out nothing but a paycheck? Which is it for you? What value will you have found in your 100,000 hours?

A recent Conference Board business research association survey on employee satisfaction shows that nearly one-half of American workers enjoy their jobs, an 11-year high. Which means that, for every worker you meet today who likes her job, the next one is likely to dislike theirs. How can we raise the ‘like’ quotient in our job satisfaction? I propose that the ‘like factor’ starts at an early age; it starts with inspiring children that even the sky is not the limit and to have the courage to follow their star. It starts with how they play.

Many of you might know that Lego® just issued a new set of mini-figurines entitled Lego’s “Women of NASA.” These figures are a break-through on so many levels. When I was a little girl, Lego certainly had no women astronauts, in fact aside from a Russian cosmonaut, America would not boast of a woman in space until 1983. Growing up, most girls saw baby dolls, while young boys built forts with their Lincoln Logs and later castles built with Lego bricks. I wanted to play with Lincoln Logs, race Hot Wheels, and fly Apollo rocket models, but it wasn’t acceptable then; it just wasn’t done—by girls. I often wonder if the toys we played with shaped who we would become.

While I did get my rocket ships for my room, I ultimately pursued a more traditional life with a home and a family when I got older. I was cooking the meals and tending to the kids. I certainly don’t regret having my beautiful family, but I didn’t pursue my passions or my dreams until my forties. What if I was playing with a Sally Ride Astronaut figure as a kid? Would those role model figurines have changed the trajectory of my work life? Would I have found the courage earlier, than later, to fill 100,000 hours with what inspired me?

In this new Lego set, which sold out on Amazon within 24 hours, there is a diverse range of pioneering women in space:

Nancy Grace Roman, an astronomer, who was one of the first female executives at NASA and known to many as the “Mother of Hubble” for her role in planning the Hubble Space Telescope.

Mae Carol Jemison, an American engineer, physician and NASA astronaut who, in 1992, was the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist, systems engineer, and business owner. She was Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.

Sally Ride, arguably the most famous of the figurines, was the first American woman in space.

It is my hope that these toys will end up impacting more than a fun afternoon for young children. I hope it will show young girls and boys that there are amazing opportunities in the sciences for women and they should not hesitate to pursue their passions. Additionally, with the sales of this product being so astronomical (pardon the pun); it should lay the foundation for more female figures and STEM-centered toys geared for girls in the future. If one child can see, by playing with toys like these, that a woman can go into space, then the opportunities are truly limitless. And as for those 100,000 hours, they will be time worth spent, for ourselves and our world.

A Dream Realized

A Dream Realized

As a pilot and presently a doctoral student, I have long been fascinated by space. Currently, I am researching issues on the impact of isolation on long-duration space flights and new tools to address isolation’s effects. There are many challenges astronauts face when trying to solve the ultimate question: Are we alone in the universe? Yet in the process of exploring that answer, the astronauts themselves experience extreme isolation.

While being in space is an amazing adventure, the missions are long, lasting now hundreds of days of living and working in confined enclosures. Humankind is a social creature and submitting ourselves to the isolated, confined, and extreme environment of space over long periods is challenging. In my studies, I thought, how could I build more social interaction for these individuals in such a limited environment? That’s when the idea of GravityGames came to mind: a game that is made and played in space by the by astronauts that uses the breakthrough technology of zero-gravity 3D printing.

As I looked at the challenge of isolation from many perspectives, it occurred to me how it dovetailed with another critical concern shared by many of us the fields of space and science: how to inspire and engage young minds with real problems and innovative hands-on activities. I reached out to students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields at Campolindo High School in the in San Francisco Bay area. These students had joined robotics, design, and computer groups but had no prior experience with any space related projects. Space is alluring and they were immediately intrigued and excited to join my new idea as the pilot team to find out how to make a hand-held game that will be made in space and can be played in space. They immediately began to think about how the condition of zero gravity might affect any game played in space and how to make the process of playing the game fun for astronauts living inside limited areas.

Through a partnership with Made In Space, Inc., the creators of the zero gravity (0G) 3D printer presently on the International Space Station (ISS), our team set out on our own mission to invent a game that could be printed and played on the ISS. After months of trial and error, we created StarCatcher. The game is scaffolded with inner chambers and a ‘star’ (ball) inside that can float around; the premise of the game is to get the star in its catcher (inner chamber) in a limited timeframe, but in space, it’s not that simple. To understand if playing StarCatcher without gravity would work in space we made an iteration of the print, made on a 3D printer on Earth, and simulated its play in a swimming pool, since water density roughly approximates limited gravity. Several iterations of the game were made until we thought the game was playable. Rules for play were developed to make it fun and yet interesting so that astronauts would want to continue. The game could include up to the full contingent of six crew members on the ISS. Then by January of this year, we created something that we felt would be able to be played in space and fun for the astronauts as well.

In February, 2017, the ISS crew printed and demonstrated StarCatcher aboard the International Space Station. The students watched the print process, with time-lapsed footage, and could see the light and dark shadows as the station repeatedly orbited the Earth every 90 minutes with sunrises and sets during each period. This was a moment for us all and we were very aware of the magnitude: We had created something for space, built on the largest laboratory the world has ever made, the International Space Station. It was the closest thing to being in space ourselves, a place where only about 550 people have ever been. Based on its demonstration, the game appears to have been fun as well. The students and I are now awaiting a debrief from the crew with their remarks about the experience. It is our hope that there will be more games that will be made and played in space, designed by STEM students who want to be engaged with innovations that have an effect on real space problems and in doing so, reach for the stars.