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Tenacity will help you soar

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Astronaut > Tells CAP cadets to doggedly pursue goals

By Tris DeRoma

Cadets of the Los Alamos Civil Air Patrol, Los Alamos Composite Squadron, received a distinguished guest Monday when astronaut Mike Mullane paid a visit to the squadron during their weekly Monday night meeting at Los Alamos Airport.

A retired Air Force colonel, Mullane arrived in uniform to present his latest lecture about leadership and tenacity, delivering his message without mincing words.

“It’s the ability to motivate yourself that will get you very far in life,” he said to the audience. “I think goal setting and tenacity far outweighs genius. I think genius is way overrated.”

And with that, he went into his life story, starting with his Albuquerque boyhood obsession with launching rockets in the desert to his days as a mission specialist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“I am a child of the space race,” he said. “I was 12 when Sputnik was launched, I was growing up in Albuquerque at the time and I was reborn on that day. As soon as I heard the word ‘astronaut’ I was reborn. I wanted to be an Alan Shepard and ride a rocket ship into space.” In Vietnam, he served as a weapons systems operator, flying 134 reconnaissance missions in an R4 3C Phantom.

But by far the scariest moments he experienced in his career revolved around his three missions aboard the space shuttles Atlantis and Discovery. He said some of the most intense moments were when he was on the ground waiting to take off.

“Any astronaut that says they aren’t scared sitting on that launch pad is either lying or incredibly naive,” he said. “You really fear for your life out there, but at the same time you are scared, you are also boundlessly joyful, because for most of us it is a lifetime dream to make a trip into space.”

He related to the audience of cadets how his first launch, in June of 1984, was actually aborted, and since the cadets were also in the middle of a series of courses on aeronautics, he took the cadets through what that was like.

“The (liquid fuel) engines started, and the clock starts ‘10, 9 8 7 6 — and the engines come on and you feel the vibration — 5, 4 3… then silence. The engines all shut off because one of them was sick, that’s what the computers were designed to do,” he said. “This had never occurred before. We were taken a little by surprise, though we had trained for this before, it hadn’t happened for a long time. Then ground reports seeing a small fire by the vehicle.

Trust me folks, when you’re sitting on four million pounds of launch propellant, there’s no such thing a ‘small fire’ I can’t tell you how scared I was at this point.” All ended well though, with Mullane and his crew returning to the launch pad two months later for a successful launch into space.

Mullane then went on to explain what it’s like to live and work in space, something he did for two five day missions and one six day mission.

“You do not sleep well, because your body misses contact with a mattress, and you immediately find yourself thrashing inside your sleep restraint looking for a mattress that just isn’t there,” he said.

Visual highlights of his lecture included video of weather phenomena occurring on Earth as seen from the shuttle. Lightning storms and the aurora borealis were the most popular among the cadets.

And of course, Mullane was asked about what he calls “the UFO question.”

“Have I seen any aliens or UFOs? No. Do I think they’re out there? Yes, given the enormity of the universe… but that’s just my opinion,” he said.

The most inspiring point of his lecture came when he talked about his aspirations in detail.

“A lot of people see me as an astronaut, that I was somehow born to it, that I was some sort of super-kid that had enormous talent,” he said, adding that he was not gifted academically and barely made it into West Point. “The point I’m trying to make here is that I was a pretty ordinary kid. I was not gifted at all. However, I went from being a geeky kid to floating around in the space shuttle. How that happened was through courageous self-leadership, and the fundamentals of that are courage and tenacity, constantly pushing the boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone. Courageous leaders don’t stay in their comfort zones. They achieve their goals, then they celebrate them and then they keep moving. We are always moving the bar higher and being doggedly tenacious in pursuit of our goals.”

Afterward, the cadets said they got a lot out of the lecture, and that it inspired them.

“I really liked the whole message, especially the message about self-courageous leadership,” said Chief Master Sergeant Justin Dunn.

Mullane said he was glad the cadets liked his talk, and was glad they were able to get a lot out of it.

“Again, you don’t have to be a superstar to do super things, he said. “Just set some goals, stay focused, celebrate your successes and move on. Be tenacious,” he said.

To find out more about Mullane, go to mikemullane.com.