Chris Hadfield: Everything worth doing in life has risk.
Learned to ride a bike, learn to walk. When I was a kid learning to walk I fell and cracked my skull, but I needed to learn to walk. Taking a test, getting married, getting a drivers license, all of those things, they give you an approved capability or an improved richness in life, but they all come with a degree of risk. That is exaggerated if the thing that you want to do is fly a rocket ship. Rocket ships are dangerous. It’s a controlled explosion. If you drew a cartoon of a rocket what it would be would be a bomb with six seats on the top. I mean rocket ships are crazy dangerous. On the first flight of the Space Shuttle when Bob Crippen and John Young were sitting there back in 1981 and they blasted off out of Florida, now that we go back and we look at what the actual history of the Space Shuttle was, their odds of dying that day in the first eight-and-a-half minutes were one in nine! Terrible odds, one in nine. I mean look around you at ten people and realize: just to try that one in nine times they would have died. They got away with it, and we learned a lot from it, but even when I flew on my first shuttle flight on the 74th shuttle flight we learned enough things, we had improved it, but the odds of dying that day for my crew were still one in 38, which—no insurance company would be happy. It’s hard to get life insurance as an astronaut actually.
But the question you really need to ask that is do I want to learn to walk? Do I want to ride this bike? Do I want to get married? Do I want to learn to drive a car? What risks are worth taking in my life? Because even if you decide “Okay I’m going to take no risk, I’m going to stay at home and hide under my pillow,” there’s still risk with that and you’re still going to die eventually anyway! So it’s kind of a measure of what was worth doing in your life, and therefore what was worth taking a risk for? Once you’ve got that behind you and said “Okay I’m going to be an astronaut, I’m going to fly a rocket ship, that’s a risk I’m going to take,” now it changes your whole job.
Your job is not to be afraid, your job is not to be an incompetent nervous passenger, your job now is to defeat the risk, like when you learned to ride a bike. If you just stay as a passenger on the bike you’re never going to know what to do with the handlebars and you’re never going to master riding a bike. And once you can ride a bike you’ve got a freedom you’ve never had before.
And rocket ships are just the same, you have to decide what risks are worth taking and then start changing who you are, learning how to turn the handlebars so that you can make this thing do something that otherwise might hurt you or kill you. And then once you’ve got that done it can take you to places and give you richnesses in your life that you never would have had access any other way. And in my case when you make it through that launch, when you’ve guided that rocket up through the atmosphere and the engine shut off, suddenly you’re in the rarest of human experiences. You’re weightless, and the world is pouring by at five miles a second, and you can see across an entire continent and you’re peering into something that is brand new for humanity. So I think it’s worth asking yourself: “What risks are worth taking?” And once you’ve decided to take them, then change who you are so that you can win, you can defeat, you can master that thing and open a door for yourself that otherwise was just shut.