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Human Performance | Aug 20, 2014
When Performance Goes Out of this World

How many human beings have had the experience of travelling into space?

Mike Fincke narrates his experiences and the long journey that finally allowed him to accomplish his childhood dream. Although his testimony centers on this specific challenge, there are lessons that can be applied to all challenges in life, especially those of the elite athlete.

Like many children watching their sports idol on television and dreaming of being the world’s next super sports star, Mike Fincke remembers looking at a small TV screen when he was only 3 years old and dreaming of the almost impossible…of becoming an astronaut…and it was a long run to get there! It took a lot of hard work and commitment and the ability to overcome many setbacks until he finally achieved his dream.

In order to get there, he explains, he studied space engineering, and even then, it was very difficult to get into NASA. Learning the Russian language was another necessary challenge. Becoming a test pilot was a long and difficult process, but he was able to achieve that with the highest of qualifications. Even so, he had to face adversities, and it wasn’t until after he had joined and worked for the air force that he was finally picked up by NASA.

Speaking of adversities, he went on to discuss the similarities between high performance sports and the process of selection and training for space travel. Like any team that must function as a successful unit, putting together the international space team was a challenge where communication issues were a problem. Mike suggested that you must make the effort and learn to communicate and understand the culture of your teammates. Keep the big picture in your mind, the common goal is more important than individual differences. Another adversity is the separation from one’s family which is a situation often affecting a sports player. Here, the unconditional support of the family and the willingness to make big sacrifices are vital for success. Being in top physical condition is also a necessity for space travel as with sports.

Mike highlighted that the experience of living his dream has made all his sacrifices worthwhile. The countless hours of training while wearing the heavy space suit, of learning all that is necessary to execute a space walk, of assembling tools and doing work even when your hands no longer seem to respond; all this made him a ‘veteran’ before even going into space. One must know beforehand all the possible outcomes and problems that could arise and how to solve them in a split second since your life depends on that.

To conclude, he described how the team of astronauts must work together and how the slogan ‘practice, practice, practice’ applies to space travel and team sports. You must adjust to whatever comes your way, he said,  illustrating this through the example of having spent 3 years working with a Russian cosmonaut in preparation for a mission when just a few months before takeoff, they changed him for another. Life lesson: learn to work with everybody! In closing, he remarked that becoming an astronaut was a difficult goal; one that not many are able to accomplish, but although difficult, it is not impossible, and one must always stay motivated until you fulfill your dreams.

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