On planet Earth, we’re enjoying a renewed fascination with outer space. If the box office is any kind of barometer, then the stratospheric success of Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014) suggests that we’re as susceptible to stories about the awesome mysteries of the universe as we were during the Space Race of the 20th century. Whether life is imitating art, or vice versa, it’s hard to say, but renewed interest in outer space has certainly spread beyond the silver screen to the world of motivational speakers.
First, the astronauts. Every child of my generation knows that a spaceman’s name is Buzz. The character from the Toy Story franchise, Buzz Lightyear, is just one echo of the huge cultural impact of the Americans landing on the moon in 1969. One of those two Americans was Buzz Aldrin. As one of the first human beings to have set foot on the moon, Aldrin would have been well within his rights to rest comfortably on his laurels upon returning to Earth, but instead he continues to be one of the most pioneering motivational speakers in the world of scientific exploration. Sharing his dream of a permanent colony on Mars, Aldrin speaks at conferences around the world to businessmen and politicians about the importance of seeing beyond individual interests to collaborate on this global goal.
An astronaut for the social media generation, Canadian Chris Hadfield recorded himself singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ from aboard the International Space Station and uploaded it to YouTube, where it has now been viewed over 26 million times. In his equally well-circulated TED talk, Hadfield relates the incredible dangers he faced to achieve a successful mission, including going blind in space. He quips that, “in the astronaut business we have a saying, which is, ‘there is no problem so bad, that you can’t make it worse’”. He speaks with humility and humour about the fortitude needed to push yourself to the very edge of your capabilities, and reflects that the reward was a fresh insight into the preciousness of life on the planet far below, a planet so beautiful that, “if your jaw could drop [in space], it would”.
Most of us will never walk in Aldrin’s and Hadfield’s space boots, but back on Earth there are scientists who are also helping us to reach a new understanding of the complex depths of space. Professor Brian Cox is a broadcaster and CERN physicist. One of the most popular science presenters and motivational speakers around, Cox is credited with bringing physics to the masses. No mean feat, but his books and television programmes are celebrated around the world. With his down-to-earth charm (pun intended), Cox takes mind-bending facts about the universe and makes them feel beautiful, immediate and important to us all. Recognising that most people find it hard to relate to the statistic that there are “something like a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe”, he playfully sums up that “the universe is big, is what I want to say.” Knowing that inhuman knowledge must be given a human voice, Cox is a powerful advocate among motivational speakers for the value of investing in scientific education and of cultivating our curiosity.
The great thing about the universe is that it’s infinite, so there will always be new things to learn, new secrets to unearth and new stories with which the brightest and best motivational speakers can dazzle us. Listening to the insights, anecdotes and stories of these motivational speakers may be one small step, but it’s a good place to start.