Friday, January 29, 2016

Purpose and Community - What Drives You?

It's not often that a simple question stops me in my tracks and makes me really think. "What are some things you have liked from your experiences so far?"  I have had varied experiences over the years, many good, some not so good, some extraordinarily fantastic. What stands out in my mind?

In my previous job, I found it exhilarating to be part of a new space venture. The goal was exciting and new. I loved getting in at the beginning and being able to influence the direction and make things happen. I enjoyed being part of the larger conversation with people who make a difference at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation members meeting. I got a kick out of the uniqueness of attending a Swiss Embassy party. I felt like I had a purpose when I was bringing people together to assist in getting a new space vehicle off the ground and experiments and passengers within it.

In my job before that, I found satisfaction in being part of something bigger than myself, the International Space Station. I enjoyed being exposed to a diversity of science and engineering experiments ranging from research I was familiar with to research I had never imagined before. I felt comraderie in reaching out to scientists to understand their fundamental questions and assist them in attempting to answer them in space.

In another job, I loved examining the space industry as a whole and understanding how everything is interconnected. In another job, I loved the hands-on science experimentation that I was able to perform, including two microgravity campaigns in parabolic aircraft. I was also privileged to undergo centrifuge and altitude chamber training to simulate suborbital space. Although I was miserable camping, I enjoyed climbing down a meteor crater with an astronaut as our guide. In leading space-related organizations, I loved bringing people together and accomplishing things that bring others enjoyment. From my very first job in the field, I was excited to be doing real science!

Nothing beats watching the flames light beneath a vehicle heading toward the stars, or at least to the Karman line, and hearing the roar as it goes. I've watched a Mars rover testing and a future space observatory just being built. I've touched space hardware and I've longed to travel with it. I've held dust from another world. I've been on teams dreaming up Moon bases and Mars bases and various ways for humanity to travel beyond.

On the interpersonal side, this extrovert gets a thrill from discussing plans and ideas with colleagues and strangers alike. Presentations at conferences can be stimulating and the travel is fun, but I really prefer one-on-one or small group conversations where ideas flow. I enjoy meeting lawmakers and associated movers and shakers and articulating why space is such an important topic to me, to them, and to the country. I enjoy meeting strangers at a party or on an airplane and conveying to them why they should care. I especially enjoy speaking to students of all ages but especially older students who can ask great questions and convey their own enthusiasm for the subject. Inspiration is everywhere.

What do my favorite experiences have in common? Purpose and community. If I can find a true purpose in what I'm doing and belong to a community of like-minded people working with me to achieve it, I'm happy. And of course, lots of fun!

Astronaut Laura ready to leap - July 2007

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