Driving to Mars

rocket-630461_640Last week the Space X rocket Falcon Heavy lifted off from Kennedy Space Center. The launch was the latest in a series of experiments designed to usher in a new era of space flight. The ultimate goal is to privatize space travel, for both commercial and personal use.

News reports of the launch focused on the Falcon Heavy’s payload, an empty space suit posed behind the wheel of a Tesla convertible. The vehicle was placed into an orbit mimicking that of Mars and is expected to circle the sun forever; unless outside forces nudge it into deep space. I find the idea of a convertible flying through space blasting David Bowie absolutely incredible.

Many don;t agree with this assessment. There are those who feel like it mocks the significance of space flight. Some say we’re just launching junk into space instead of focusing on important issues here on Earth. Others feel it’s just a waste of money.

But despite the comical notion of driving in space, I feel this accomplishment has a lot to tell us about the concept of goal achievement. If we look behind the headlines, there are some important lessons to be learned from what Space X has done.

  • Their mission is to push the envelope. The goal of this launch wasn’t really to put a car into space. It was to advance the capabilities of space flight. The Falcon Heavy was designed with reusable rockets. In fact, both of the boosters used were from past launches of smaller Falcon 9 craft. Designing something reusable, as opposed to NASA’s single-use boosters, cuts down tremendously on the cost of putting something into space. Having already proven that a rocket booster could be retrieved, this mission served to prove that they could be used on even larger, payload capable rockets and recovered yet again.
  • Their focus is on steadily moving forward. The Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to launch in 2013, but getting to this point turned out to be much harder than anticipated. But the engineers didn’t give up. They focused on solving one problem after the next until enough issues had been resolved for them to hit the ignition button. Designing a new type of rocket meant looking at things from different angles and breaking new ground in a series of related areas. The retractable landing legs of the boosters, for instance, required the largest casting of titanium in history. An accomplishment in and of itself, this was but one of the obstacles that had to be overcome in pursuit of the ultimate goal.
  • Their approach is lighthearted. Obviously, launching a multi-million dollar spacecraft is no laughing matter. However, serious work doesn’t have to preclude having a little fun. Take that Tesla put into orbit. In order to test the capability of past rockets to deliver a payload, a block of concrete was typically used. Pretty boring, huh? Space X decided to approach the same necessary test with a bit of style. Of course, a natural side effect of this approach is a positive boost to employee morale and their brand perception.

The best work always involves achieving goals, exploring new ideas, and doing so in a fun way. It’s my hope that we all look at our own jobs not as a mindless, empty experience; but as a journey full of promise and adventure. With the right attitude, any profession can be a trip worth taking.