Viewing the Earth from space was the best part of being an astronaut, but a close second was the relationships I forged with my crewmates. Relationships between astronauts can be very special, somewhat of a hybrid of a best friend and a sibling. Doing cool things together like flying in high performance jets, practicing and honing our skills in simulators, and eventually sharing the joy of space flight together gave us unique personal bonds. I think it is because we share those experiences that these extraordinary relationships form.
Moonwalker Alan Bean once told me that the most important thing for strong leadership and teamwork is to care for and admire everyone on your team. You have to have that connection with each person. Only then can a team be truly successful. This was great advice. Getting to know each individual I worked with and finding something that I admired about them made me truly care about them, and it made working together an absolute joy.
When I was assigned to fly in space with astronaut Drew Feustal, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. I didn’t know Drew very well, and wasn’t sure if I would like working with him. Alan Bean also told me that if you meet someone at NASA that you don’t think you like, don’t think of it as you don’t like them. Think of it as you don’t know them well enough. You need to get to know that person better, you need to find a way to care for and admire that person. Once I took the time to get to know Drew I found out he was a great guy. He always tried to see the best in people. He was also the most mechanically inclined person I have ever met, and a natural space walker. More importantly, he was more than willing to use his skills and love of fixing things to help me become a better spacewalker.
While training closely together to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, Drew and I formed a close relationship. And that relationship was vital for the success of our mission. I made a critical mistake during one of my spacewalks while repairing a scientific instrument. It was Drew who was inside the space shuttle talking me through the checklist, and he kept me going while we got help from the mission control centre. Eventually we figured out a solution with our control team, and were able to successfully repair that instrument which is capable of detecting Earth-like planets.
When I speak to organisations and share my experiences at NASA, I encourage them to think about some of my lessons learned in teamwork and leadership, and how important it is to care for and admire everyone on your team whether you are a leader or a team member. In many cases we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with family and non-work friends. Sharing the ups and downs of your work, meeting challenges together, taking care of each other in successes and in failures, and forging strong relationships with your teammates is a great way to go through life.