Somehow or other I ended up in space...

Somehow or other I ended up in space...

As ever, the 2016 Marketing Society annual conference was awash with fantastic speakers. However, there was one star that shone brighter than all others. Ed Lu, astrophysicist turned astronaut, is quite simply a legend. Ever humble, he regaled us with a story of saving the International Space Station and the astronauts on it in the wake of the space shuttle being grounded following the Columbia disaster in 2003. Having already completed two space missions, he was chosen for the ultimate job.

Lu condensed 18 months of training in Russia into 63 days to learn how to fly a Russian spacecraft in order to retrieve the stranded astronauts who would shortly run out of food and water. Every day he started training at 7am, finishing at midnight, and then studying for four hours leaving time for three hours sleep. Ultimately, the mission was a success and the space station was saved.

But what was so beautiful about Lu's story was the way that he translated his experience into something all of us can learn from…

  1. Don't put things off - his biggest life regret was that he never had dinner with the family of a friend who died on Columbia. They were so busy that it kept getting delayed. They had fixed a date for when Columbia returned.
  2. Be an optimist - but be a living optimist. Space travel is the ultimate goal but it is risky since you are sat on millions of pounds of explosives. Be smart about risks and reduce them until they are smaller than the prize itself, but don't have a safety first approach otherwise you won't do anything.
  3. Don't micromanage from afar - Lu worked with a Russian cosmonaut for six months on the International Space Station and at times they had conflicting orders from their seniors. They had to work out a way to create space to collaborate and get on with it.
  4. Appreciate what you have - for six months Lu couldn't shower and had a sum total of 250g of personal possessions (a photo, a notebook and a pen). You don't need much to be happy and it isn't about material things.
  5. The world is beautiful. Lu saw 16 sunrises and sunsets every day and had a sense of wonderment for the planet that we live on. He believes that if everyone could see the planet in the same way, there would be no wars or conflict.

Indeed Lu developed such a love of the planet that having worked at Google after NASA he then went on to co-found B612, a foundation dedicated to protecting the earth from asteroid strikes. Lu had observed from space just how many asteroids have hit the moon and Earth. The B612 project sounds fanciful, but the plan is to launch an infrared telescope into orbit around the sun and from 170m miles away it will detect asteroids that might end it all for us.

It may have been unexpected for Lu that he ended up in space but we have all benefited from the fact that he did. And if there was ever a man who could pull off 'planetary defence' it would be Lu - but you can be sure that he wouldn't make too much of a fuss about it.

Mark is founder of and marketing director at Direct Line Group. Follow him @markevansfeed.