Shooting for Mars


Nasa mars mission

On a flight from the Gulf last week, I was watching a programme filmed at NASA. It documented all the challenges involved in getting a manned mission to Mars and back.

The overall message was that even the recent Matt Damon film, The Martian, understates just how tough this assignment is. One segment in particular, caught my attention.

A NASA psychologist was working on how you select crew members for a 3 year mission. As he said, this is a whole different scenario from the Apollo Missions to the Moon. Apollo astronauts were all Air Force fighter pilots, mostly who had also been test pilots, and they were universally super tough action men, who were going to get out and about on the moon, lugging rocks and driving buggies. And the longest mission (Apollo 17) was just twelve and a half days long, from launch to recovery.

So when you start looking for crew for a three year mission, are you thinking “this is another outdoor mission, let’s start lining up the Top Gun fighter pilots again”? Or do you, instead, see someone who likes reading and playing chess and staying in of an evening, and say, “well actually, that might be a pretty good profile for spending 3 years confined in a spacecraft…”

Now, I am not suggesting that you apply for a Mars shot. I suspect that would be an invitation to spend a lot of time being incredibly bored and struggling to stay fit, interspersed with moments of extreme peril. (For example, the atmosphere is too thin to slow your descent, but dense enough to require a heat shield; so simply landing people, alive and in one piece, is quite a challenge).

I am, however, suggesting that you may be underestimating your options. Quiet bookish people don’t look in the mirror and say “astronaut!” – but according to this psychologist, perhaps they should. And maybe there is something you should be thinking about your future options that is a bit more out of this world than the way you have thought about yourself up until now.

I will say a bit more in another post shortly; for now let me make a statement which should be a statement of the blinding obvious, but which may in fact come across as a bit provocative:

The subjects you studied, the educational path you followed, and the exam grades you achieved, are, in no way, manner or shape, any sort of guide to what you should be doing with your life.

Education is hugely valuable. It teaches you to think and equips you with practical and mental skills which you can apply in a wide range of situations. It may be directly vocational. It does not, however, sentence you to follow a particular career path, nor does it set a limit to what you can achieve. Only you can do that. But why would you?

So go on: what would your audacious Mars shot be?


This guest post was contributed by Jon Mason. Jon is CEO and Principal Consultant of Elaura, a business helping MNCs to map and manage their talent, as well as founder of hoozyu, a programme helping young people to understand themselves better and make more sustainable life and career choices. Jon’s current clients include Coca Cola, Shell, DBS, RBS and Visa. He is from NZ, married to an English wife and with 4 children, born in Old South Wales, New South Wales (2) and Singapore.


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