On this edition, we’ve found space for one of our country’s most decorated space heroes.
Jim Wetherbee is a former naval officer, aviator, test pilot, aerospace engineer and NASA astronaut. Perhaps most impressive is his distinction as a veteran of six space shuttle missions and the only American to have commanded five space flight missions.
Wetherbee shares his own history with host Kraig Kann and they discuss a childhood that led him to Notre Dame, the U.S. Navy and then onto NASA. What’s it like to climb in a craft bound for outer space? What’s the rush? What are the fears? He discusses it all - and the dream of an opportunity to experience all of it.
Jim shares detailed stories of his many missions including Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor. But this soft-spoken Oregon resident, who was born in New York, is now a happily retired - yet sought after - consultant who celebrates two daughters and his wife, enjoys tennis and… his drums! The American Federation of Musicians is also on his amazing life resume.
So, what on earth do you even ask a man who’s docked with the Russian Mir and also the international Space Station multiple times? What stands out the most? Which outer space movie is his favorite? You’ll find out as Kraig goes all in on this edition of Tracks To Success.
Welcome to Tracks. To Success brought to you by presentation partners. This is the podcast that brings you inspiring people and they're inspiring stories. How did they find their way to the top? And How can their path help you do the same? Here's your host network, broadcaster, executive and entrepreneur. Kraig Kann
Right now On this edition of Tracks To Success. If you've ever dreamed for a trip to outer space, this is a van that's truly lifted. A former Naval officer aviator test pilot aerospace engineer, and NASA astronaut, and a veteran of six space shuttle mission. That's not enough to boost a resume. He was the only American to ever commanded five Space flight missions, a Notre Dame graduate. He found his way to the U S Navy in 75 and logged to 125 at night carrier landing two aboard the USS John F. Kennedy between 1977 in 1980.
0 (1m 11s):
He was probably best known for seats, a board Columbia Discovery Atlantis and Endeavor But this soft spoken Oregon resident who was born in New York is now a happily retired consultant who celebrates two daughters and his wife and enjoys tennis and his drums. And there's an honorary member of the Musicians union and the American Federation of musicians. So what on earth do you even ask a man who's docked with the Russian Mir and also the international space station? Multiple times What stands out the most Which outer space movie is his favorite.
0 (1m 52s):
His name is Jim Wetherbee is inspiring story. This edition of Tracks To Success starts now, Jim, I have to be honest. It's not too often that I get to speak with an American Space hero. This is an honor and a privilege. I'm really glad you're joining me here on Tracks To Success so thank you very much. Well, thanks for inviting me and thanks to our mutual friend, Duane, what a great guy he is. And I'm looking forward to this. Thanks. Yes. Dwayne Cummings pass guy on Tracks To Success. My first question is really pretty easy. Tell me about this. You walk across a platform to the spacecraft for the first ever time, knowing you're about to take a journey that few really could ever do or be a part of what was that feeling like for you?
0 (2m 48s):
Yeah, so it's an interesting question, Craig, the, the morning of the launch and we back up a little bit inside in the morning have launch and astronauts. If he or she was doing the job correctly is really
2 (3m 0s):
Focused. You're thinking about the present. Do not make any mistakes. Don't think too far into the future. Nothing else matters. The future never comes until later anyway. So you're really focused and making sure you're doing things correctly. As you walk down that gantry into the white room to ingress the vehicle for the very first time, all of a sudden out of your peripheral vision, you see the giant 12 foot in diameter, solid rocket booster to the left. And you look at that booster in is a single word printed and two inch high block letters printed vertically on this booster.
2 (3m 43s):
And it says loaded and it suddenly takes your breath away. And you think their cell phone, man, school's out, it's time to go to work. And then you go right back into the mode of making sure you do everything right. Put the harness on correctly, you know, and some of the folks are pretty nervous when they're helping and on my first flight, the technician's who are wonderful people tried to put my harness on upside down. So you're really stay focused on every single task, regardless of how small the task is to make sure you do not make a mistake. Wow.
0 (4m 22s):
I mean, they're nervous. What about you? I mean, were you ever concerned for the worst? Does that even enter your mind? Do you allow it to enter your mind? How do you stay that focus with no nervous centers?
2 (4m 35s):
G so most of the time being an astronaut, you don't think about that. There are a few instances where it doesn't to your mind and the classic one is the night. Your head hits the pillow on the night before your first launch attempt. When I suddenly realized I've just run out of time to get any smarter and it's too late to quit. And you had to figure out how you're going to deal with that because you have to get a good night's sleep so that you can wake up the next morning and perform at peak effectiveness and, and with Supreme mental awareness of everything going on around you.
2 (5m 16s):
So my first thought, as I tried to go to sleep was to try to calm myself down. This is the only job I've ever really wanted to have since I was 10 years old. And I found that was helpful, but in sufficient because I could still die tomorrow. And that's not what I wanted to do since I was 10 years old. So I had to think a little deeper and it took me about 15 minutes as I pondered life and my existence and what I was about to do tomorrow climb one on top of four and a half million pounds of explosive per pound. It suddenly occurred to me. And this was a thought that stayed with me throughout my career.
2 (5m 56s):
And I still think this all the time tomorrow morning when I wake up and climb on this vehicle, if bad things start happening in this vehicle starts coming apart. And the evil gods of death and destruction are conspiring with the The was of mechanics and physics. I'm going to spend my last second is trying to save in priority order the crew, the vehicle and the mission. And that really calmed me down. Essentially, I was taking myself out of the equation. Doesn't matter what happens to me tomorrow. If I can save the crew, I've done my job and I can die a happy obviously, if I can save the hardware or the vehicle or the systems, so to, you know, to live another day to complete the mission later.
2 (6m 44s):
Great. And if we can complete the mission better still, but I've always thought of those three things in any human endeavor. It's always about the people that you're working with, your team, the crew members, the other people that spurs us to greatness. And, and obviously the system's you have to protect for longterm viability of the company or the mission. And then finally, if you can accomplish the mission better still. So that helped me go, go to sleep and wake up the next morning, a refreshed and ready to go.
0 (7m 14s):
We're going to talk about safety and your book in a little bit. And some of the things you did post NASA, but specific to what you were just talking about. You train for this stuff, hours upon hours, days upon days, months, the G-Force during a launch of supposedly what three times the force of gravity humans are normally exposed to on earth, which can make people black out blood struggling to get to the brain. Is that right? I mean, what is, it's very easy for me to say, what is that like? But, I mean, you're basically strapped in and forced to deal with that.
2 (7m 51s):
Yeah. So, great question. It's the one thing that we do not simulate. I mean, obviously you can get in a chair and spin up and feel the force of gravity and, and we train and the airplane's full and gravity, but its in a slightly different direction down vertically. This is through the chest on, on the space shuttle. I'll jump ahead a little bit and tell you during launch under that oppressive three GS of force, it's like a bear sitting on your chest. We had oxygen bottles that were connected to a chest strap that would a harness that would push on our chest and it would deflate the lungs. And if you ever allowed them to deflate, you felt like you could not re-inflate.
2 (8m 31s):
So the trick was to completely inflate your lungs and then just use the diaphragm with quick panting breaths too, to breathe as you're going up Hill. But none of that really matters. The physical side doesn't matter. The much more important aspect is the mental and the technical aspects of the mission. You must stay focused and think farther than 10 seconds into the future. You have to anticipate a little bit, but you must be aware, be present, be here now, see everything, feel, everything sense, everything. Be aware of the computers, the engines, the thrust vector controller reaction control system jets, how the power generation system is working to create electricity.
2 (9m 18s):
The displays you're anticipating failures, thinking about mode boundaries, and that's what's occupying your mind. So you don't really think about the fear or the danger or the risk. That's all repressed to the back of your mind as you're concentrating on doing the job. And I remember my first flight, I had to make an unanticipated very important first decision, about seven seconds after liftoff. Fortunately I made the right decision about 20 seconds after liftoff. There's a law where there isn't much going on for a few seconds. And our remember this very comforting thought came into my mind. Wow, this is exactly like the simulators.
2 (9m 60s):
You mentioned thousands of hours of simulators. And I still have the record for more simulator time than any other astronauts because that's the key to success is preparation and training. But I remember the thought flashed through my mind in about two seconds. Wow. This is just like the simulator with the exception of the G-Force that you're talking about, which was a very oppressive, but that gave me the confidence that I was going to be able to make the right mental decision. So one last thing I'll say about the force. I always try to help the rookie crew members on every mission that I commanded to anticipate that physical force and be aggressive. You know, don't just sit there plastered in your seat cause you feel like you're you're, your arms are three times as heavy and you can not lift your head off the seat.
2 (10m 48s):
You have to be able to reach switches even under a three G if you need two, if the vehicle starts to coming apart, you, you gotta do something. So be aggressive and move around and, and, and grab you're a baler BARR on your helmet and move your head to the side. If you need to see to the side and be very physically fit, we do a lot of weightlifting before a launch and just be aggressive and, and don't feel like you have to sit there to many of the rookies. I can just get plastered in their seat and they feel like they can't move. And that's the wrong way to do it. Do you all speak
0 (11m 22s):
A lot during a launch and while you're going up, I'm sure you've been asked this question a million times. Cause I can't remember how long it takes to get up to Space too, the international space station or whatever. I mean how much conversation is there really?
2 (11m 38s):
And so another great question. Kraig thanks a lot. So it's pretty interesting. A lot of crews will talk about things that are ancillary. What a great view, what a ride. Oh, this was wonderful. All that kinda stuff from the very first time a year before the mission, when we were assigned as a crew, I would train my crew in the art of the techniques and the principles of good communication. And I would only allow operationally relevant conversation in the cockpit during a moment's like the launch, which it takes eight minutes and 23 seconds to go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour.
2 (12m 28s):
And the purpose wasn't really to inhibit their conversation. The purpose was really to encourage them to think operational thoughts. You know, you can't tell people just be professional and, and only think about the right things, but you can tell them you're only allowed to say operationally relevant things. And, and so my crew was the first one on that STS one 13 was the first crew I knew we were going to be really professional about this and not talk about things like football are the view or anything ancillary the responsibility you have as a crew members to only speak to me about things that you want me to respond to.
2 (13m 17s):
And, and my responsibility to you, my commitment to you is I will respond. I will think about what you're saying and will respond. So don't distract me from irrelevant things, but the crews were always so professional. You know, initially they think, well, why is he being so such a stickler on this? But they began to realize in training long before the mission, this is a great way to get us all, to be thinking about the right things and mentally anticipate that many failures that can and do happen during a space shuttle launch. And so my crew on STS one 13 was the first crew. And in all of those Space flight history were we actually put the audio in our post flight crew video.
2 (14m 2s):
So if you, if you'd go find STS 113 and look at the crew video, and there's the sequence where you here exactly what were talking about going uphill on the Intercom that is normally not ever transmitted two people on the ground, but I decided to release that just specifically to show people how professional we were and how operationally relevant we were speaking. I mean, it pulls the crew together and it really gets you fire it on all cylinders. And it is how the elite crews really, if you look at an elite team, you'll see that their communication is just outstanding. I worked with the anesthesia department at mass general hospital a couple of months ago, and it was just really impressive to watch them communicate both verbal and nonverbal communication.
2 (14m 51s):
It's everything. I mean, it's
0 (14m 52s):
Everything in every walk of life, your communication skills are, are really what determines a lot about your success, no matter what endeavor and you take on. Look, I've got so many questions for you and I don't wanna run out of time with you, but let me, let me talk about something here real quick for all of our listeners, six space shuttle missions, but Jim, you are the only American astronaut To have commanded five space shuttle missions. That's that's remarkable. And I know that it probably puts your head to the pillow is you talked about earlier, uhm, with a great deal of pride in comfort, success and failure as it pertains to one specific mission. Any mission is defined by what in your mind?
3 (15m 40s):
2 (15m 40s):
Are there are two ways to think about that? I think success of a mission of course, is the end result. If you succeeded in achieving the goal or created the accomplishment that you intended to, that it is a great part of the Success. But the way I tend to think about mission success is not from the end state, but its from the process of how you get there. And I often tell executives and companies who rightly so or are concerned because we've got to hit the performance targets. We gotta meet the number's. We didn't do so well last quarter, we got to do better next quarter and they entice and encourage and, and try to inspire their workforce to hit the numbers and achieve the end result.
2 (16m 27s):
But if you think about it, the workforce we're even space shuttle, astronauts don't create results. We simply conduct activities. And if we can conduct higher quality activities with operating excellence, then the results follow. No single person ever creates mission success as a team were all conducting activities and is the integration of those high quality activities over time then ended up creating the Success and the results you want. And by the way, think about this in a dangerous business, as a single poor quality activity can create disaster. So it's not just integrated high quality activities over a period of time, you've got to eliminate the, the, the, the mistakes as best he can, or at least eliminate the consequences of the errors that we inevitably make.
2 (17m 18s):
So I tend to think of success is of course the end result. But if you can operate the entire mission with high quality tech techniques of operating excellence, then success comes. Yeah.
0 (17m 33s):
Yeah. Did you ever come back from Space back to earth and, and say, now they might have thought it was a Success, but I didn't feel that way. I feel like we didn't do enough or what we were supposed to do.
2 (17m 48s):
So So not on the mission accomplishment, all, all six of the missions and every mission that I was associated with as the director of flight crew operations that were flown under my command were deemed successful, but there will be on every mission, small elements of the mission that weren't as well executed as they should've been. And you tried to learn and you move on. I will say I'm very proud of The my final mission, the six mission. And I have a lot of stories in the book about that mission. A, it was such a success that we only made to two errors and the entire two weeks of evolution, thousands of, of operations, only two errors.
2 (18m 31s):
And neither of those areas had any consequence, but it wasn't because of the crew was so good. It was because we really involved the ground team. You know, you have a, the hundreds of people in the mission control center when we really were firing as an elite team on all cylinders. And that's what I tend to think about is this was a huge success because the team did really well. I always, I often think about the crew's job is easy. We climb on a rocket and live or die as a consequence of our own decisions and actions. But the mission controllers who are helping us, they have to live with the consequences of their decisions while somebody else may die.
2 (19m 13s):
So their job has a lot harder than ours.
0 (19m 17s):
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0 (20m 4s):
How long does it take when you get back? By the way, when you've been in space for how long, how many days, what is what's average?
2 (20m 14s):
Each, each one of our missions was two weeks. And when we went to the international space station, we'd stay for eight days. Okay.
0 (20m 19s):
When you get back, how long does it take to walk normal again? Like what what's that like?
2 (20m 26s):
So it depends on how quickly you're trying to readapt to Earth's gravity. You can do it very quickly and within a couple of hours you can, well, you can certainly walk normal and, and pretty much feel normal, especially if you move your head around and get the nervous stimulus system to really sense the gravity and, and, and like we do down here in the earth for, for, and a half a billion years or all of human history. Umm, but also you could try to preserve the feeling of being in space longer by not moving around and Rhea. Climatizing your nervous tubular system. And I did that after one mission where I purposefully walk very slowly and moved and you know, it kept my head centered on my body and tried to preserve that feeling.
2 (21m 14s):
And you can make it last for a couple of days where you'll be sitting or laying in bed and wondering why can't I just float up and go get a drink of water? Why do I have to exert so much energy to stand up?
0 (21m 27s):
Oh my all right, let's go back in time. We'll get back to To your missions and everything But you shared about being 10 years old and what not a lot of kids, myself included when I was really little, they want to play astronaut. Right? They want to be in make believe an astronaut. Did you do that? Is that really what you want it to be at that young age?
2 (21m 49s):
Yeah. So, so my quick story is I don't remember most of before I was 10 years old, I think I was just kind of responding to the environment kind of like an animal with no sense of future or past or connections and decision making and all that. But all of a sudden, when I was 10, it was like a circuit breaker engaged in my mind. And I began to see, Hey, there's a world out there and I have a part in it. And I could remember, you know, entire sequences of a day and what I did during that day. And at the time the mercury seven astronauts for a flying, ah, this is back in the early sixties. And I remember thinking one day, not I want to be an astronaut, but rather that's what I'm going to do.
2 (22m 30s):
I will be an astronaut. And I had a very specific goal, which we can talk about later in what I wanted to accomplish in space, but I never really told anyone other than my family. And I think I told one other friend, a childhood friend and he said, yeah, I'm going to be an astronaut too. And I thought, well, that's kind of, even as a 10 year old, I thought that kind of trivializes what I just said. So I never told anyone else, but as I grew older, I began to realize, yeah, there's really no chance of me or very little chance of me becoming an astronaut, but I'm always going to do the next best thing that I can do now. And so when it was time to go to college, I said to myself, aerospace engineering, that's what I love.
2 (23m 14s):
I want to study that. I don't know what's going to be come of it, but that's what I want to study. When it was time to graduate. I realized I didn't want to get a real job. So I decided to join the U S and Navy and learn to fly an aircraft carriers. I figured that would be the best job on the planet. And it really was. I loved doing it, did that for three years and I looked around, I said, well, what's the next step I need to take? And I said, I'll apply to the test pilot school and learn how to be a test pilot and test airplanes is that will be really exciting. And I can combine my aerospace and, and my, you know, interest in math and science with testing. It wasn't for the goal of becoming an astronaut though. I still wanted to be an astronaut.
2 (23m 55s):
I, you know, that was too far in the future. And then suddenly after testing the FAA team, the hottest new fighter for three years just have to, you know, every job I've ever had has been the best job in the world. I said to myself, well, I have enough now I've satisfied all the requirements, I guess I can apply to. NASA never thought I would be selected. My wife said, well, you better apply. Cause its the only thing you've ever wanted to do, you know, she didn't know what she was getting into. And I applied and, and feel very privileged and fortunate that I was selected to find space for our country's six different times and have a bunch of management positions. But the point is twofold.
2 (24m 36s):
I only, I only took the next step that I could take, but I also took the next step that I was really passionate about. And it has two benefits. Number one, you'll do really well at it. If you're passionate about something and number two, you won't have wasted your time. If you don't get to do the next step. And as I say, every job I've ever had, I've really enjoyed. I've had so much fun doing what I've done throughout my career. It's just been a huge privilege. And, and that's what I try to tell folks is find your passion. Doesn't matter what it is. Find your passion and just have fun and do really well at it.
0 (25m 12s):
You grew up in flushing, New York, I'm assuming you loved science. When you were a kid, you had to I'm guessing as well. You probably liked science fiction movies. When you were a kid a I don't know, maybe I'm way off base. Number one. Is that true? A number two, who was your biggest role model growing up before you got to Notre Dame?
2 (25m 33s):
Yeah. So, so close on your assumption, but a little bit off. So I love math and science and never really had much of a, have an appreciation or a affinity for science fiction. It just never interested me. I was interested in real science and the planets. And I would ask for, for Christmas presents, I'd asked for math books as a geeky kid, poor, you know, our mutual friends. You've still wanted me to mention that I was a real nerd in college. Although I did hang around with all the business majors like Steve, because they had much better parties. But so your question about role models. Of course my parents growing up, my father was the director of the Eastern region for American airlines and the chief chief pilot for American and, and But was the leader, the manager of all the pilots.
2 (26m 26s):
And so I watched him, I saw how he treated people with integrity and respect even if he had to discipline them. He also was a 19 year old bomber pilot in world war II, flying missions, 43 missions over to Germany. So I kind of learned from him the technical integrity side of there's one way to do a job. You gotta do it right. Even if it's the harder, have the choices, you know, its the right answer. You've got to do that. And of course the other one was my mother who was an army nurse in world war II. I did some time near the front lines and Belgium and France. And I learned from his, from her a kind of comedy.
2 (27m 10s):
She was just a hilarious lady and the way that she treated everybody with respect and later became a national, a record holder for nine distance records and running and the 16 over a category one, the New York marathon, four times in our careers and in this category. So I learned from my parents. And then one final story I'll tell I'll share just when I was young at 10 years old, I would smuggle in a nine volt transistor radio and the class to listen to the mercury missions. It was when they were first flying, John Glen and the, and the, and the guys and a, and I got caught one day by mrs.
2 (27m 50s):
Johnson, my, my teacher, but rather than getting in trouble, she decided to pin up a map of the world said, okay, you continue listening to take these thumbtacks and plot the progress as they fly around the earth. So I thought I was part of the Space program, which to me was really inspirational. 35 years later, I was the director of flight crew operations. When John Glenn came back to fly for us and as the director, I was responsible for delivering a nationally televised press conference. And the journalist were all interested in how's the feel was the, what did you eat for breakfast? What is he look like? What's he been saying? And, and I, as far as plotting his progress that mourning, I suddenly blurted out this story about a 35 years ago.
2 (28m 35s):
He was plotting the progress as a 10 year olds are in school and here it is 35 years later, I'm doing the same thing, plotting his progress as he's getting ready to launch for on a mission. Wow.
0 (28m 46s):
Hey, bear with me on this because I'm going to run through some things. You, you talked about Notre Dame and you graduate your off to the U S Navy. You mentioned that assigned two attack squadron 70 To carried out of 125 or So night carrier landings aboard the USS John F. Kennedy I'm. Now I know what it's like to land a plane at like a midway airport with a short runway. That's a real short runway. I don't know what that must feel like. You're then selected for the astronaut candidate program, which you mentioned more than 7,000 hours flying in 20 different types of aircraft, which I assume is what it takes to have a chance to get to NASA in 85, 1985, you become an astronaut.
0 (29m 30s):
Now you talked about that and you said, you know, your wife said, well, you better apply and then you get it. So that dream at 10 and the things you just talked about in as a child and the inspiration. Tell me about the feeling when they said yes, you're in
2 (29m 51s):
Probably the most professionally exciting feeling that you could ever have. They, you know, from a life perspective of emotional, most excitement, I, our ad was getting married to my wife. And then of course the first daughter being born and then the second daughter being born from a professional standpoint, being selected to be asked to join. NASA the only thing I've ever wanted to do, as you mentioned, it is, is just the most exciting thing that you could ever imagine. I can't think of anything better than that. And my boss who became a mentor for 20 years, very low key kind of guy, George Abby is his name.
2 (30m 31s):
He's the father of the international space station. And by the way, he was mentored by George lo who got NASA back on track after the Apollo one fire. And then George Abbey mentored me for 20 years, but he was the one who called on the telephone and is kind of very low key way. I talk about him in my book a lot, because he was such an inspiration to me. He said, I think his sentence was, do you still want to come and work for us? You know? And you're trying to suppress the emotion. Well, yes sir. So it was pretty exciting.
0 (31m 10s):
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0 (32m 10s):
I think I got the order write and to be perfectly honest with you, I don't pay attention to it as much as certainly you would or others. I didn't realize there were multiples of the same thing all the time is the one mission or a moment up
2 (32m 25s):
In space right now
0 (32m 27s):
There that stands out more than anything else to you.
2 (32m 33s):
Yes. Is the answer. But if you'll allow me, I'll mention two, you know, every mission you remember all six of them stand out of my mind, but let me just mention two So. The first was my very first mission before we launched, I flew with commander Dan Brandon Steiner, captain Dan rinse on the us Navy, who was the chief of the astronaut office at the time. And he told me before we launched, he said, you know, there's only three things you don't want to have happen in space, a fire lose cabin pressure, or be spun out of control. And we had all three of those in the 13 day mission of, of STS 30 to in addition, we had a computer failure, a big water leak that was getting all over your electronic equipment, you know, threatening to fry everything and kill us all.
2 (33m 22s):
We lost an inertial navigation system that, you know, multiple failures during the mission. None of them really, I actually enjoy them. I know that sounds kind of weird, but that's what you're trained to do as an astronaut, as respond to emergency situations. So I was always anticipating and searching and looking for failures to try to identify them before they occur. So I responded to all of those, the way that I should. So that kind of stands out to me as a pretty exciting mission. And, but then nothing like that. The second example is my six mission STS one 13 So by this time I had been the director of flight crew operations responsible for all the astronauts, a 150 at that time I'm and all of the missions and having them be successful with a high quality.
2 (34m 17s):
And it was also the lead and in developing and codifying that techniques of operating excellence so that we were using. And, and, you know, I kept trying to help as I do now with corporations to help companies to perform at elite levels. So here it is my final mission and a lot of self-induced pressure because I know I'm the guy that's telling people, here's how you conduct a mission. So I get one final opportunity to lead a crew in this space. And that mission stands out because it was so flawlessly executed, not just with our crew and team, but with the team and the Michigan Charles center and all the hundreds of thousands of people around the country who are supporting the mission.
2 (35m 4s):
We had just developed such an elite level of teamwork and relying on each other and helping each other and understanding concepts like error, wisdom. And how do you mitigate the consequences of errors and use all the great techniques of operating excellence that were developed initially by the mercury seven astronauts and carried through the years two through 19 groups of astronauts when I finally left the program and, and to have that mission be so successful was kind of validation that the techniques really worked. So that stands out in my mind, but that isn't the technical accomplishments. I hope you can hear in, in my voice, in my own explanations, it's the working together that that really stands out in my mind.
2 (35m 48s):
And I remember the people and the teams and, and the teamwork and the spirit of accomplishing the mission much more than actually performing the mission. Six foot four, tell this guy to fly into space, by the way, that's the kind of a cool little tidbit. Yes. The international space station you've been there, had a little meetup with the Russian Space Station, which is also a pretty cool at what point did you realize, and all these mission's that you really we're the leader of the American Space program.
2 (36m 31s):
You know, you, you ended your question. I I've I've knew what I was going to say. When you were in the process of asking you a question, but you ended it leader of the Space program. And I would not ever say that I was never the leader of the Space program, but I still appreciate the question that the time that really the weight and the responsibility of a leadership and command occurred to me the first time I command on a mission. So it was my second mission, STS 50 To. And for the most part during training, my job is to make sure the team is congealing and coalescing into an elite performance team. And that's, you can be hard to do.
2 (37m 14s):
There are signals that not many people understand too, the really C what is an elite team, but when you get up on the mission, so you plan everything you need to train and you're ready to go, and you'll feel like you're the best qualified. And you go up in Space. I suddenly realized as the commander, I'm not really doing a lot of the work, it's the crew, that's doing a lot of the work, getting ready to play a satellite, and I'm sort of overseeing, and I was a little bit envious of the crew because they are having fun. They are doing great things and I'm just overseeing. And, and suddenly there was a point where we're getting ready to deploy a satellite.
2 (37m 54s):
And, and, and I had one crew member who was operating a little bit too fast, a little bit too quickly, and had the risk of making mistakes and, and, and making a mistake and not deploying the satellite. I had another crew member who was operating a little bit too slowly and methodically trying to make sure that he or she didn't make any mistakes. So I had to figure out how am I going to influence these two different people with two different problems and say something that's going to inspire the one crew member to go a little bit faster. And I had to understand why was this person is going to slowly and with the other understand, why are they going too fast?
2 (38m 39s):
And how do I inspire them to be a little bit more methodical? So they have to know the people who have to know the technical way that astronauts think. And you have to try to inspire them when that was successful. And by the way, I told them, if we don't get this deploy, it's, I'm taking their responsibility and the accountability, not You, this will be my reason for not deploying the satellite. If we never get there. And if we do deploy, then you get all of the credit. Cause you are the ones doing the work that's leadership. And that was when that was when we were successful in that deploy, I sat back and a thorough floated back. And I thought to myself, that was pretty cool.
2 (39m 21s):
This, I like this kind of stuff, trying to help people, I'm trying to help them do better. And that really was a, kind of a, the jumpstart of my really understanding. So I'm already a commander I'm already in space. And I'm just now understanding what does it mean to be a leader?
0 (39m 41s):
Yeah. Neil Armstrong was the leader had a special walk. Most of us know about that. You played basketball with him. Is that right? What kind of a relationship did you have with Neil Armstrong?
2 (39m 52s):
And so I did, I, I, when I graduated Notre Dame, the Navy took a little too long to process the paperwork. And again, I didn't want to get a job. So I applied to graduate school was accepted at Cincinnati where a professor in Armstrong who was teaching, it was after his career as an astronaut. He taught the undergraduates. Then I was a graduate student. So he was not my professor But. We did have a, a basketball game that was fairly widely publicized the professors and the graduate students. So I was on his team or he was on our team against the undergraduates. So that was kind of fun. But when the Navy, the other point I wanted to make was a about, well, two points about Neil Armstrong.
2 (40m 39s):
When it, when the Navy finally did come through and they said, do you have a class state that starts in August? I was going to leave before I completed my master's degree and in my thesis or my course requirements, which were not that many left. I think my professor, my mentor at the time, who's a great guy. Professor Crespo is silver. This is now retired. He ask professor Armstrong and to come in and talk to me to try to convince me to stay in graduate school. And, and so he came and spoke to me for about 15 minutes. One night, it was a Friday night. I was working on my thesis, really kind of frustrated with the problem. And I saw him standing over me and I looked up and there's professor Armstrong.
2 (41m 20s):
And he talked to me for about 15 minutes and tried to convince me that this was as close as I would ever be to completing a master's degree. And I just kept saying, yes, sir. Yes, sir. And he finally got to the end of his spiel and he said, you looked at, and he said, you know, he was a former Naval aviator flew in the Korean war I'm and then became an astronaut as, as you know, and he looked at me and he said, I don't think I'm convincing you, am I? I said, no, sir, you said, well, good luck have fun. I know I did. And I saw them for 15 years later after I had been an astronaut and he came back through a reunion and, and he remembered that story. I've played in the band with his son, Rick Armstrong.
2 (42m 0s):
He was a bass player. I'm a drummer. So that's kind of fun. Every time I get to play with him, but I wanted to make one other important point about Neil Armstrong. You know, he was, I think why they recognize is the perfect choice to be the first human to walk on the moon. He was not about ego. It was all about the mission and being a team player. And he really was the perfect choice to be the first person he didn't care about. The fame are, the glory are being first. He was the best choice. I knew Sally ride and worked with her. She was by far the best choice to be the first American woman to fly in space.
2 (42m 41s):
We didn't care one bit about being the first understood the responsibility, but she was the best choice I flew with Eileen Collins on her first mission as a, she was my copilot. She was a rookie first, a woman piloted NASA by far the best choice to be the first woman pilot didn't care. One bit about being the first understands the role model that she is and does that very well, but she just wanted to fly in space. That's the kind of person that you want to be. The first we're getting ready. I'm almost done here at Kraig and we're getting ready to launch the Artemis a mission, which is The a twin sister of Apollo that president Trump has decided we were gonna send people back to the moon by 2024.
2 (43m 29s):
And a lot of people are making a big deal about the fact that we're going to have the first woman to walk on the moon, but I guarantee you Kraig the first woman who has chosen to walk on the moon will be the best. And it won't be that she is excited about being the first woman. She's going to be the best choice to walk on the moon. That's the message is that I don't want to tell folks she'll understand the importance of them being a role model, but she really is going to be the best choice and the most professional woman astronaut, and the best person to walk at that time
0 (44m 5s):
Applies to every business. That's just how it should be. It makes total sense. I have to ask you about 2003 in the Columbia disaster, a you play an important role in the aftermath of that tragic event that included searching for remains. Tell me about that. My guess is, is that as difficult is that might have been their had to be some sort of real honor and responsibility to take part in that.
2 (44m 36s):
Kraig when I think back on my career and all the accomplishments, which you've mentioned the six flights, that's not what I remember the most or what I take pride in the most. I've the sense of accomplishment that I have is leading a team of 2000 people who were asked on February the first to go find locate, recover with dignity honor and reverence the human remains of the Columbia crew. Essentially they told me, go find your seven friends, unlimited budget, unlimited resources, no rules, go find them. And to C 45 different organizations all the way from the white ass down to the local restaurants, helping us and all the civilian population in East Texas who gave up their careers temporarily to help us with a mission of finding the seven crew members was, was truly an honor to, to lead that team.
2 (45m 38s):
I feel like I had so much training and mentoring throughout my career before that, that I was prepared to make the kinds of decisions that we had to make to go find them, you know, truly an honor, to work with the people and accomplish that. And I The, you know, in the back of my mind the whole time I was, we were doing that mission. I kept thinking someday, and the next life, I may have an opportunity if I, if I'm lucky to go see Rick husband and his crew, and I want to be able to tell them we did the best we could. So that kind of drove us to dig deep and, you know, perform with operating excellence and, and find the crew and recover them with dignity on our end reverence
0 (46m 31s):
Post NASA, you've done quite a bit. You've been really, really busy. You retired from the U S Navy and 2004. Are you retired from NASA in 2005, you became a consultant. You got in to the oil and gas industry for BP as a safety auditor. I mean, you just couldn't put it down, you know, I mean, to you, you've got a lot to give people, was it hard to retire or you just felt another calling?
2 (46m 57s):
So I've, I jokingly say I've tried to retire three times and it hasn't worked. I think it, you know, that there's always something I want to do. I don't, I don't fly now because it requires significant amount of mental energy and effort to do it professionally and, and with operating excellence. And there are two, many of the things that I wanna do, you know, now it's time for me to share what I've learned in what I've been taught and all the lessons throughout the years with companies who are involved in dangerous businesses and, and trying to help them. I find that intensely satisfying to go into a company that has asked me to come in and, and to share with them.
2 (47m 37s):
Here's how, here's the slightly different way you can think about this to help your workforce two, not only prevent all accidents, including unpredictable ones, but also operate with peak efficiency and effectiveness and accomplish. So the very thing you're trying to do is just to improve the results next quarter. Umm, how do you help people and inspire them to operate with high quality work and operating excellence? So I just find that are really intensely satisfying. I also think it's, there's a very little difference between drilling down five miles under the sea with the intense pressures and, and the physical dangers that they have in the oil and gas industry is it's identical to the Space program.
2 (48m 29s):
People kept looking at me as an astronaut on the oil and gas industry. Is that how did you change jobs? And I said, well, I didn't really change jobs. I'm doing the same thing. I'm trying to help people manage hydrocarbons, control the energy and deliver energy to the world or use the energy to explore space that we're either exploring down or we are exploring up, but it's all the same humans trying to manage it and control the risk.
1 (48m 54s):
In addition to hosting this podcast, Kraig leads the Kann advisory group focused on elevating communication for companies and individuals, company consulting and powering team and individual workshops, mind altering webinars. And Craig's inspiring keynotes for your conference or company meeting. They're all on the menu of services. Kann advisory helps companies clarify their message, helps professionals build and showcase their brand and helps everyone present their best selves. So if you're the leader of a team or company looking to give your employees a game changing one day experience or an individual who wants to become a speaker and presenter that gets other people talking visit Kann advisory.com and when you do connect, make sure to mention the Tracks To Success podcast to receive a special discount on any of the Kann advisory services.
1 (49m 53s):
That's Kann advisory.com. Now back to the interview
2 (49m 58s):
In talking with Jim Wetherbee 20 year career with NASA among so many things, and I'm going to throw the book in there because you kind of just teed me up with that. The book is called controlling risk 30 techniques for operating excellence, operating excellence. That's what you just mentioned. Your whole career was about minimizing risk and taking risk. If you get right down to it, what's your message in the book. If you're walking on a stage, talking to people, what stands out about that, that we could take in as a, as a quick hit message for all of us. So when, when I get up on stage, I try to tell a lot of stories and show pictures.
2 (50m 38s):
I have very few word charts, but let me just explain the premise. Since you asked, have, have the concept. Most companies manage risk and they do it very well. Occasionally they have accidents and tragedy and people die. But for the most part, when you're, when a company manages risk, the product of that management is to assess the risk and assign a qualitative assessment. And it's kind of a notional calculation. And then they issue rules, policies, and procedures. I mean, you know this very well, you go in to any company and they have rules for doing everything.
2 (51m 19s):
The problem is those rules, policies and procedures, which are mandatory, are often closed and non-adaptive, and they won't help you. They won't help the worker in the situation we're here. She picks up the toolbox and they go to work. And suddenly the hazards is different today than it was yesterday. Yes, they still follow the rule, the policy and the procedure, but they're going to get bit and their going to get killed if they don't think about hazards differently than the managers who are managing risks. So when the worker goes to work in a dangerous environment, their thinking of techniques that are based on principles, which are open-ended and the adaptive, and if you follow the proper principles of operating excellence on high quality work, not only will you stay alive and prevent, even the unpreventable are unpredictable accidents, but you also will operate at peak efficiency and effectiveness it's is just wonderful.
2 (52m 21s):
When you see a crew of really dirt, physically dirty, oily, a drillers who are out drilling a well and they pause and they tell you how they think when they're exposed to these extreme hazards. And they say things like, you know, if we see a tool that keeps getting in the way as we're tripping pipe down the hole, which is takes, you know, several, a 15 minutes or an hour, depending upon the depth of the hall, we will pause, remove the hazard. And then we go back to work slowly and methodically and we will accomplish much more by being slow and methodical and working with high quality.
2 (53m 8s):
When you win, you see folks who are high school, dropouts, who understand the concept of controlling risk in the way they think they do it correctly. To me, that's really inspiring. And that's the messages I try to help executives who have not been exposed to the way that workers think who are really working at elite levels. And the executives can understand if I help the people with improving the quality of their activities. Now they will achieve the results that we all want and they'll prevent accidents
0 (53m 42s):
Winding up our time together. How many presidents have you met? How many times you've been to the white house as a, as a hero of, of the Space program,
2 (53m 49s):
A three times as an astronaut or have been in the oval office, spent five hours with prison and Clinton. One day, that was kind of an interesting revelation alone. And the oval office He ushered us out, close the door. And I looked around at one of the crew member and there was no one around. And we had to find our way out of the white house with no escorts as So three times as an astronaut. And once last year, a friend of mine works as a lawyer in the white house and was invited back to the white house. So, you know, it's, of course it's always inspiring to go into the oval office and, and, and see a, and, and talk to the people like, you know, it it's the other, by the way, the benefit of privileged that I've had have being an astronaut.
2 (54m 35s):
I love talking to the, the dirty rough necks on an oil rig. And I love talking to presidents of countries and King of nations, and they are all humans and their all people. And they're all interesting in, they're all fun to talk to.
0 (54m 51s):
All right. I want you to give me 30 seconds on each of these, if it's even possible in a couple of quick hitters, we talk about time, you know, and, and days and hours on earth is time different in Space. We explain that as quickly as you could.
2 (55m 8s):
The, the, so the scientific answer is I am seven nanoseconds younger than I would have been had I not gone into Space, you know, But so what time do you sense his speed? And you kinda run out of time to do everything you want to do up in Space, but that's, that's the excitement of it is you're you're trying to work at peak efficiency and effectiveness. When there's little time,
0 (55m 38s):
Your favorite thing about the international space station. How how big is it? Is it like the size of a,
2 (55m 45s):
A block or, or a house
0 (55m 47s):
Or two houses? How big is it yet?
2 (55m 49s):
So I had the privilege of, of trading out. The first crew, I think, were on cruise 60, 63 or something. Now, when I helped to design to build construct a space station that even then it was over a hundred feet long. So you could float from one end to the other as if you were Superman, just floating down this long tube, or you could imagine you just flip your brain and imagine it's a well, and you dropped down into the well a 100 feet this way and spring up from the bottom and come to the top, or like an elevator shaft. So just the immense size of being able to float in that kind of volume was, it was the thing I enjoyed the most about it
0 (56m 32s):
Landing the shuttle, right? You've landed Plains on aircraft carriers. How cool is that?
2 (56m 40s):
It's about the coolest thing ever on or off the planet on a boat landing on an aircraft carrier, which by the way, the Navy has to do it the very first time solo, because why risk the life of an instructor pilot on something so dangerous. And, and now, you know, years later you have to land the space shuttle with the whole world watching. And, you know, I kind of thrive on that, that pressure and, and the demands of controlling vehicles like that. And I really enjoyed it. So I feel very fortunate that I was able to do that more times than anyone. And I guess there's a record that will never be broken cause we're not flying the space shuttle anymore. Yeah.
0 (57m 17s):
Yeah. Okay. Let me, let me ask you a couple of other things. You're a guy who lives quietly now in an Oregon peaceful state, right? Beautiful country landscape. What moves you have these days? You're a tennis guy write, and you already said your a drummer. So I find that interesting as well. How much, how often do you play the drums?
2 (57m 38s):
Well, we're getting ready though. So the original astronaut rock band called max Q was, it has been delayed. Now we're supposed to play with the Orlando symphony orchestra, I think next may. So we're gearing up for that. We'll play three songs with them. So that'll be a lot of fun. My latest passion is I live on the 14th green, have a, have a pretty famous golf course called <inaudible>. So I'm trying to learn that silly sport. And I think I'm addicted. Wow. That's cool.
0 (58m 7s):
This podcast is called Tracks To Success. You have flown at speeds. People can relate to you've represented your country in the most amazing way. What would you tell people listening here about dreams and shooting for something that most could never dream possible.
2 (58m 28s):
So I go back to kind of our original conversation at the beginning of this, I would tell folks, find something you're passionate about, and then methodically go after it. Don't let anyone deter you, take it step by step. Really enjoy, enjoy the journey of mastering, whatever you're doing at the current time. Stay in the present, think a little bit about the future, but stay in the present and really enjoy life. It's also the secret to longevity. If you enjoy every moment you're going to get to the end of your life and think that it was a pretty full life.
2 (59m 10s):
And I already think that now I really try to stay in the moment. It's just like launching on a space shuttle. You gotta stay in the moment and enjoy every minute of it. And I want to thank you. Kraig cause this has been a lot of fun for me. I've enjoyed every question you asked and, you know, trying to think of the right answers. So we stay in the moment, be passionate about what you're trying to achieve and then just go after it.
0 (59m 33s):
Are you the first guy in line, by the way, for the next a, you know, outer space movie. And did, did, did you like Tom Hanks in Apollo 13? Are these movies realistic at all? I'm curious. Yeah, so I met
2 (59m 48s):
John Howard, the director and, and the actors, Tom hacks, and the folks before I was up at NASA headquarters, they wanted that movie to be very realistic. So they solicited NASA is help. And it is probably the most realistic Space movie that there is. They did a very good job, the only a couple of minor exceptions, but yeah, I thought that was a great movie. And, and I know Jim Lovell who Tom Hanks portrayed and he's just a wonderful human being. And I couldn't think of a, you know, a better match of Tom Hanks and Jim level, just the, you know, American heroes. And so I, I loved the movie. I thought it was very realistic.
0 (1h 0m 23s):
Good. I needed to ask that before we go. Here's my final thing. How often in the place that you live, do you sit on the porch and look into a space?
2 (1h 0m 39s):
All always when their, our guests or family members who are visiting us, but it's never in looking back. I never looked back. I will remember it fondly. I'll tell stories and try to share the experience with people. Cause that's my responsibility and I enjoy doing it, but I never miss it. I remembered finally, I never looked back. I'm always looking to the future. What can I do next? But yeah, it's fun to, you know, look up at the stars and think about how many of them are, are, are, and think about the solar system and the, in the galaxy and the universe and all that. I just love thinking about those kinds of concepts.
0 (1h 1m 21s):
This has been awesome. A you're an inspiration and a, you're a hero in a lot of ways to a lot of people, you should be so proud. I know your family is, and I'm honored that I got to spend a little bit of time with you. Thank you so much for being a part of Tracks To Success
2 (1h 1m 38s):
Kraig thanks a lot of for doing what you do and helping so many people. I, it was a privilege for me to be with you. Thanks
0 (1h 1m 47s):
In my conversation with Jim. He talked about his responsibility to the country and the brand that is NASA. And that leads me to my one last thing. If you want to be an influencer, never forget the brand you represent, it may be the company or the organization, but it's also the people. And it's also, You. I've always believed that even in working for someone else, you have to keep focused on yourself and making sure that you represent the best of you. Jim soared into space and you're climbing to your highest peak. Make sure you think about the bigger picture and the greater cause that you are fortunate to be a part of even entrepreneurs who work for themselves, still represent an industry So work to deliver Bigge for the brand.
0 (1h 2m 34s):
You represent, find ways to add great talent and gifts to the team and challenge yourself to push your company and industry to a higher place. No different than Jim Wetherbee did. As he helped take the country's space program to new Heights and Wal that your Tracks To Success to be a whole lot easier. Please do me a favor. Take a moment to rate this podcast for me, give it a review. It means a lot until next time I'm Kraig Kann thanks so much for listening.
1 (1h 3m 10s):
You've been listening to Tracks To Success brought to you by presentation partners, visual storytellers, passionate about connecting presenters with their audience. Don't forget to subscribe to the show for more great interviews and thoughts on reaching your highest personal and professional summit. You can follow Craig on Twitter and Instagram using the handle at Kraig Kann and four exclusive Tracks To Success content and news about our upcoming guests. You can find Tracks To Success on Twitter. It's at Tracks To Success.