The psychology of space exploration — and why it matters on Earth

Dylan Taylor
9 min readJul 7, 2023

Dylan Taylor is the founder and CEO of Voyager Space and a commercial astronaut who flew on Blue Origin’s NS-19 New Shepard suborbital space mission.

When Astronaut Chris Hadfield gazed at Earth from Space Shuttle Endeavour, tears formed in his left eye as he experienced the Overview Effect. He didn’t expect these tears would make him go blind.

Within minutes the tears used the bridge of his nose like a waterfall, spilling into his right eye, until he couldn’t see. Fear should have paralyzed Hadfield since he was now blind in space. Instead, Hadfield assessed his surroundings, evaluated the risk, trusted his training, and continued his spacewalk. Back in the shuttle, he realized that an anti-fog solution had irritated his eyes, which were fine after a good cleaning. Hadfield returned to Earth with first-hand experience of space psychology in action.

“What is the real thing that you should be afraid of?” Hadfield said during a Ted Talk about his experience. “Not just a generic fear of bad things happening. You can fundamentally change your reaction to things so that it allows you to go places and see things and do things that otherwise would be completely denied to you.”

Astronauts ride a pillar fire off the planet, so naturally, they encounter some fear along the way. But astronauts confront a host of other stressors in space, too: isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, pressure, boredom, and close-quarters tension. Given this collection of ever-present stressors, NASA has trained astronauts to live, work, and even thrive in extreme environments.

The space environment will grow more intense as more humans venture to more locations — and situations. Space psychology, a vital long-term field of study at NASA, is gaining special importance as humans prepare for long-distance space travel. Missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond require astronauts to push their physical and mental abilities in unprecedented ways. Astronauts already train for deep-space missions in the Antarctic and underwater. They isolate for months in hostile environments with no reasonable expectation for extraction — just as they will in space.

Space psychology certainly matters on the 140-million-mile journey to Mars. But it also can help humans here on Earth as we meet challenges in our lives. As Hadfield said, we can learn from astronauts who practice what goes wrong and right. So let’s start with him.

Life Lessons From an Astronaut

Hadfield, a retired Canadian fighter pilot and astronaut, has turned his 166 days in space into a blueprint for life on Earth. His book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ translates his rare experiences into practical advice everyone can use. Here are a few suggestions.

Have an attitude

In the NASA vernacular, attitude refers to a craft’s positioning in three-dimensional space. To reach a destination, spacecraft must be pointed in the right direction. They must have the correct “attitude.” Hadfield suggests that we view life the way NASA plans missions: with an attitude. Unforeseen factors may alter your path, but with the proper mindset, they won’t change your course.

Aim to be a ‘zero’

Hadfield ranks team members in three categories:

  • Plus-ones: The high-performers
  • Zeroes: Capable workers who don’t cause problems
  • Minus-ones: Liabilities

Hadfield encourages people to be “zeroes,” whether they work on the International Space Station or a marketing team because zeroes listen, learn, and contribute without conflict. They help build consensus in a roomful of alphas and can be plus-one performers without telling anyone.

What’s the next thing that could kill me?

Astronauts ask this constantly. Though most of us don’t face such omnipresent risks, we still deal with problems that can be exhausting and debilitating. Asking, “What’s the next thing that could kill me?” helps to bring this collection of risks into focus. It allows people to separate true obstacles from mere bumps and then develop solutions. Asking that question could help people relax because it leads them to prepare. Hadfield also calls this the “power of negative thinking.”

Sweat the small stuff

“An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut,” Hadfield said. We can overcome our fears by learning as much as possible about them. So prepare for situations you know will cause anxiety: speaking engagements, doctor’s appointments, the check engine light. Or, as Hadfield advises, by “visualizing failure.”

Strive to CONNECT

During the pandemic, psychologists asked astronauts for tips on living in extended isolation. So NASA behavioral scientists developed the acronym CONNECT to represent the valuable ways in which astronauts deal with stress and confinement. This tool has utility beyond the pandemic.

  • Community: Isolation deprives us of meaningful connections. We should build community wherever possible, including at work, through charitable interests, and with neighbors.
  • Openness: Astronauts must be open to myriad solutions that could save their lives. Being open to change benefits everyone.
  • Networking: Astronauts look forward to restorative video chats with family. Call your mom!
  • Needs: Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep are imperative, particularly for astronauts. Prioritize them. Physical health impacts our mental health.
  • Expeditionary Mindset:Expeditionary skills include stress management, conflict resolution, communication, and even cleaning your room. Adventurers have good habits.
  • Countermeasures: NASA recommends that astronauts journal or meditate as coping mechanisms. Being mindful of our strengths and weaknesses helps counter stress.
  • Training and preparation: Astronauts constantly refine their skills and build new ones. Training reduces the possibility of failure and encourages success.

Thinking Like An Astronaut

We all deal with risks every day. We’re aware of the risks and well-practiced at dealing with them if they present themselves. Astronauts have an extra batch of risks to deal with — but oftentimes, they are on a par with soldiers, firefighters, law enforcement and construction workers. Astronauts have to adapt to some new risks and tend to spend a little more time on the structure of their training. But so do people in a myriad of professions. How an Astronaut trains to prepare and deal with risks — has a lot of relevance to those of us on Earth — even if we’re just going on with our daily tasks. The next time you stop to think about a risk, look back and ask, “What would an astronaut do?”

Originally published at https://spacenews.com on July 7, 2023.

Dylan Taylor in London

About Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor is a global business leader, commercial astronaut, thought leader and philanthropist. Currently, Dylan serves as Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space, a multi-national space exploration firm focused on building the next generation of space infrastructure for NASA and other global space agencies.

Dylan has been recognized by Harvard University, SpaceNews, the BBC, the Financial Times, Pitchbook,CNBC, CNN and others as having played a seminal role in the growth of the private space industry. As an early-stage investor in more than 50 emerging space ventures, including Axiom, Kepler, York, Astrobotic, LeoLabs, Relativity, and Planet, Dylan is widely considered the most active private space investor in the world.

Dylan’s technical background, global business experience and unbridled passion for space make him a unique figure within his industry. As a thought leader and futurist, he has written many popular pieces on the future of the space industry for Forbes, FastCompany, Newsweek, SpaceNews, The Space Review, and Space.com. As a speaker, Dylan has keynoted many of the major space conferences around the world and has appeared regularly on Bloomberg, Fox Business, and CNBC.

Dylan has extensive global business experience as both a board director and CEO in several industries, including advanced electronics, finance and real estate. He previously served as a Director for UMB Bank, a Fortune 500 company based in Kansas City and as a mutual fund director for the Jackson Funds where he oversaw assets of $8B across 130 distinct funds. He has also served in the roles of CEO, President and Board Director for multinational companies like Prudential PLC, Honeywell, Colliers and Jones Lang LaSalle. Dylan was recognized as a Fortune 1000 CEO with P&L responsibility in excess of $3B and operations encompassing 15,000 employees in over 60 countries. In addition, Dylan has participated in 4 IPOs over the course of his career.

Dylan is a leading advocate of space manufacturing and the utilization of in-space resources to further space exploration and settlement. In 2017, he became the first private citizen to manufacture an item in space when the gravity meter he co-designed and commissioned was 3D printed on the International Space Station. The historic item is now housed in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Dylan is an explorer of note. On December 11th, 2021 Dylan became just the 606th human to go to space as part of the crew of Blue Origin’s NewShepard Mission 19. Accordingly, Dylan earned his commercial astronaut wings with the FAA and his universal astronaut wings from the Association of Space Explorers.

He is also one of only a handful of humans to have descended to the deepest part of the world’s oceans, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench as part of the Limiting Factor Expedition in July of 2022. In that mission, Dylan descended with pilot Victor Vescovo to a depth in excess of 10,800 meters (35,500 feet) into an area of the Mariana Trench that had never been visited by humans. Dylan is the youngest human to have been to the deepest part of the world’s oceans and crossed the Karman line into Space. Dylan has been a member of the Explorers Club since 2014.

Dylan maintains an extensive philanthropic impact on the space industry. In 2017, Dylan founded the nonprofit and social movement, Space for Humanity, which seeks to democratize space exploration and develop solutions to global issues through the scope of human awareness to help solve the world’s most intractable problems. Space for Humanity has successfully sent two citizen astronauts to space via Blue Origin including both the first Mexican-born woman (Katya Echazareta), and first African-born woman (Sara Sabry). Building upon his passion and support for the space industry, Dylan serves as a strategic advisor for both the Archmission and the Human Spaceflight Program and is a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which promotes the growth of commercial space activity. Additionally, he is also a leading benefactor to the Brooke Owens Fellowship, Patti Grace Smith Fellowship and Mission: Astro Access.

Dylan is the founder and Chairman of Multiverse Media, an integrated global media company focused on science and technology, with an emphasis on space. Multiverse is the parent company of the popular space philosophy website 2211.world as well as the Ad Astra Dinners, a Jeffersonian-style dinner series featuring some of the world’s leading influencers discussing the future of humanity in space. Another subsidiary of Multiverse Media, Multiverse Publishing, publishes books by leading authors including Frank White, Isaac Asimov and Gerard K. O’Neill. Multiverse is also the executive producer of the documentary film, The High Frontier and the forthcoming film, Fortitude.

For his influence as a global leader and his commitment to creating a positive impact on the world, Dylan has been honored with numerous personal and professional accolades in recent years. The World Economic Forum recognized Dylan as a Young Global Leader in 2011 and a full member of the World Economic Forum in 2014. That same year he was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. In 2020, Dylan was recognized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation with their top honor for business and finance, following in the footsteps of 2019’s inaugural winner, the late Paul Allen
and subsequent winners Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Dylan Taylor earned an MBA in Finance and Strategy from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago and holds a BS in Engineering from the honors college at the University of Arizona, where he graduated Tau Beta Pi and in 2018 was named Alumnus of the year. He is also a graduate of the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century program at Harvard University.

Dylan and his family reside in Denver, Colorado where he is active locally with Colorado Concern and theColorado Spaceport. In his spare time, Dylan enjoys hiking, competing in triathlons and spending time outdoors. As a weekend warrior athlete, Dylan has more than 25 top ten finishes and 25 age group wins to his credit, and he regularly interviews world class athletes whom have shown extraordinary resilience as the host of the Legendary Podcast. He is married to legal expert, consultant and author Gabrielle V. Taylor with whom he has two teenage daughters.

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Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor is a global business leader and philanthropist. He is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry