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Beyond the Blue Marble: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is a veteran of four space flights, having spent a total of 520 days in space. He is best known for his year-long mission aboard the International Space Station in 2015-2016, which provided valuable data on the physical and psychological effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body (Credit: NASA).

Excerpt from Scott Kelley's interview with the Harvard Business Review by JM Olejarz:


When you’re up in space, does it feel like a job?

KELLY: Yes. When you wake up, you’re at work, and when you go to sleep, you’re still at work. You’re living in your office. It’s an incredible office—magical in some ways. But it’s still work.


You’ve held leadership roles throughout your career. How has your style changed over time?

KELLY: If you’d asked me 15 years ago what kind of leader I was, I would have said I didn’t know. But now I’d say my style is based on the situation. If there’s a fire on the Space Station, I’m like a tyrant—I tell people what to do, and I don’t want any questions. But sometimes I’m more collaborative—getting the opinions of the group and then making a decision myself. Determining what to use in what situation—that’s the skill.


The ISS is a collaboration among many countries. Whom do you feel you’re working for when you’re on it? KELLY: You feel like a representative of the whole planet, especially when you have an international crew. You work for all the different partner agencies: I’ll do a Japanese experiment. I’ll be fixing something in the European module. I’ve launched on the Russian Soyuz. At the end of the day, I’m a NASA astronaut, and I represent the U.S. government, but I do feel like an extension of the civilization of Earth.


How do you build relationships with foreign astronauts, especially when the politics are fraught?

KELLY: That’s one of the great things about the program. You draw on the strengths of people with different backgrounds. There’s potential for conflict and challenges, particularly with the Russians; we’re not always the friendliest with them. But in space you set all that aside, because we rely on those cosmonauts, and they rely on us. Even when you’re not the greatest of friends, you can work together for something that you both believe in and that has mutual benefits. Space is a great place to do that, because no one owns it. It’s a common ground where peaceful scientific collaboration can occur.


Isn’t it hard to have coworkers you can’t escape?

KELLY: Part of the astronaut selection process is a psychological profile; people who can get along with one another are chosen. A lot of my close friends, family, people I know or have worked with—they wouldn’t do well. But NASA and our international partners pick people who can deal with being in close quarters with others. On the station you have your own private space if you need to get away. I’m sure people vent to the folks on the ground. And we talk to a psychiatrist or a psychologist every couple of weeks. Occasionally someone will do something to get on your nerves, but then you realize you’re probably doing stuff to get on their nerves, too. So you just move on. I’ve seen two cosmonauts who didn’t talk to each other for months. That’s not an ideal situation.

Read the full interview from the Harvard Business Review by JM Olejarz here.


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