Becoming an astronaut is really hard. Only a few dozen are selected for NASA’s annual class. It’s even harder though if you’re Canadian like Chris Hadfield. It’s hard even though the litmus test is one question, ‘How fast can you figure this out?’.
In his book, Hadfield provides many examples about how thinking like an astronaut can help us make better decisions on earth. On earth there’s more slack in our mistakes. On earth what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Not so in space. A mistake, Hadfield wrote, “is like a loose thread you should tug on hard, to see if the whole fabric unravels.”
Asking ‘Why?’ many times is a good way to see how much can unravel and it’s why astronauts do so many simulations in pools, in planes, and in the lab. Hadfield also warns about when things come too easily. “Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.”
There are various expressions for ‘thinking on your feet’ and ‘winging it’ and astronauts do their share of just that. However, they do it with a reservoir of experience to draw from. When things go wrong they ask ‘Why?’ rather than moving on. They do that because it’s a life or death issue. They face constant challenges to learn from them rather than success that books the ego.
Astronauts ‘figure things out’ because they’re constantly training to do just that because they have to.
Non-astronauts can ‘let things pass’ because sometimes they don’t matter, but in thinking like an astronaut we can wonder if they do.