Want stratospheric success? Look beyond your own worldview

Current physician and former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski knows a thing or two about out-of-this-world success.

Scott Parazynski: I guess the best advice that I could give to creating really successful teams is to constitute them with people that don’t think like you, don’t look like you, don’t come from the same place as you, have different educational backgrounds, different cultures.
The more diversity we can create in a team the better, because you don’t really know where your blind spots are.
So that’s one of the most successful strategies that I’ve used and I would recommend to you.

Situationally appropriate leadership is kind of the mainstay of the success that I’ve seen on all of my space shuttle missions. It’s not always the person that has the title that has the knowledge or the situational awareness to make the critical decision.

Many times in a normal flow of activities you can work by consensus, but there are times when a leader has to lead, and it may not be the person who is designated the commander. It may be the person who has the deepest systems knowledge, it may be the rookie astronaut who has the knowledge or the insight or even just an orthogonal view that everybody else—because they have tunnel vision from their years of experience—that they could not see.

We don’t know what we don’t know, and so I’ve often asked, after working with a team for a while, “How is it going? Am I saying too much, too little? Is the creative spirit of the team working?” And I’ve gotten actually really good feedback in the past, and early on in my career actually I was told, “You really need to talk less.” And actually I paraphrased it—and I discussed in my book—“You need to shut up more,” and that’s a hard thing to hear. But as someone who wants to get the best out of his or her team you really need to listen to everybody around the table, and even if you have “the right answer” immediately sometimes it’s good to sit back and let the junior people speak and really take turns.

Another thing that we’re now spending more time thinking about is the cross-cultural issues. The space program is no longer a U.S.- or a Russian-only domain, but it’s mixing in many cultures, European, Japanese—you have Canadian astronauts and of course Russian cosmonauts flying with us, and there will be other nations flying aboard the International Space Station in the future as well.
So really having a sensitivity, an understanding of those intercultural kinds of issues is really important.

I’ve seen this in other aspects of my life as well. I actually worked as a Chief Technology Officer at a major medical research institute and I created these innovation teams that were comprised of not just physicians and traditional engineers but nurses and respiratory technologists and physical therapists and even lawyers and business people, people that don’t necessarily think alike, but it was really fascinating to see the people that came up with these really wonderful ideas.

Oftentimes it was the nurses who came up with the best ideas. They’re on the front lines of medicine and they see the things that are going well in healthcare and the things that aren’t. They come up with these jerry-rigged innovations that turn out to be really, really useful in patient care. I always place great value in creating multidisciplinary teams and really try and focus on empowering situationally appropriate leadership.

Current physician and former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski knows a thing or two about out-of-this-world success. He knows that, most of all, that working with people that differ from you can open you up to new ideas. And new paths forward. Scott's latest book is The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed, and he is brought to you today by Amway. Amway believes that ​diversity and inclusion ​are ​essential ​to the ​growth ​and ​prosperity ​of ​today’s ​companies. When woven ​into ​every ​aspect ​of ​the talent ​life ​cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are ​the ​best ​equipped ​to ​innovate, ​improve ​brand image ​and ​drive ​performance.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
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As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

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Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock
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