In 1984, Jim Wetherbee was selected to join NASA in its tenth group of astronauts. Over a twenty-year career, he flew six times on the Space Shuttle. The five-time commander flew two missions to the Russian Space Station, Mir, and two missions to the International Space Station. In 1998, he was appointed as the Director, Flight Crew Operations, specifically selected to improve the flight and ground safety in the astronaut corps. Based on that success, Jim was selected after the Columbia accident to enhance the safety aspects in the organizational culture at the Johnson Space Center, home of NASA’s human space flight program.
With thirty-five years of experience in high-hazard operational environments, Jim enjoys consulting with leaders and operators in dangerous endeavors with critical mission objectives. He is the only American astronaut to have commanded five missions in space, and is the only person to have landed the Space Shuttle five times.
What an incredible conversation Beth and Jim share about space with SO many great techniques to apply in our every day lives! Here are some of Beth’s favorite moments:
On the balance between having confidence and humility: “
You must be confident to do the kinds of things astronauts and test pilots do… you have to have the confidence to be able to get in the vehicle and strap in, but you better have the humility to recognize that we’re all humans and we might make a mistake- even as best trained as I am, I might make a mistake. If you have confidence, you’ll make mistakes… If you don’t have humility, you won’t KNOW you’re making mistakes.”
Often I ask people, ‘Do you know someone with supreme confidence and insufficient humility?’ We all know those kind os people- and it’s best to avoid those people and avoid their trailing wake of disfunction and debris.”
-Jim Wetherbee from the Casual Space Podcast
At 35 minutes in, Jim shares his own perspective from flying the space from the shuttle– what surprised him, what he went looking for, and what came full-circle from his goal he set when he was 10 years old. At the end of the podcast, Jim explains what went through his mind and helped him sleep the night before he would launch and start his mission.
Here’s more great memories about shuttle launches from Jim:
“When you see a rocket launch from a far, and you notice how very slow the rocket/ vehicle seems to be moving up off the Earth… there is NOTHING slow about a launch!!! You get that sense because it’s so far away from the camera, but when you are SITTING IN IT, and it FIRES, and you instantly are accelerating at twice the force of gravity….I try to describe this experience in the book, and it’s exactly analogous to lying down on a hard bench, in an elevator, in a 19-story tall building, having the floor suddenly open up, and you’re dropping straight down 190 feet! The space shuttle feels that that, accelerating, but in the other direction. The launch tower out your window just disappears. You are forced back in your seat with twice the force of gravity, then quickly picks up to three times the force of gravity. I did the math, and at one point, there was more than 800+ pounds pushing on my body as I traveled straight up, and it’s so hard you almost can’t breathe! But you can’t think about it or devote any brain cells towards breathing because your job is to be thinking about the life support, the reaction control systems, the readouts on the computers, making sure everything is working flawlessly, and if it doesn’t and when it doesn’t, you must take action right away.”
You wrote the book, “Controlling Risk in a Dangerous World.” How can we control risk when there’s so much that seem out of our control right now in the world?!?!: Can we predict all accidents from observing the past? Are some unpreventable? We easily prevent potential accidents that are similar to recent occurrences, but preventing accidents that exceed corporate experience seems extraordinarily difficult. Organizations continue to be blindsided by tragedies that no one thought would occur. Yet, in any given postincident analysis, investigators often determine the latest catastrophe was tragically similar to a forgotten previous incident. New rules are promulgated, operating procedures are updated—and the cycle of accidents continues. Organizations must need something more than rules and procedures to prevent accidents.
About Jim Wetherbee: https://www.jimwetherbee.com/about-1
Jim earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. He began his career as a Naval Aviator aboard the USS John F Kennedy, flying the A-7 Corsair. After graduating from the US Naval Test Pilot School, Jim performed flight-testing of the F/A-18 Hornet.
Bringing his experience from the aerospace industry as a former NASA executive and astronaut, Jim joined the oil and gas industry as a Safety and Operations Auditor for BP. Four years later, he was selected as a VP for Operating Leadership. In this role, he supported efforts to improve performance results consistently over the long-term, by emphasizing effective leadership behaviors as a key way to influence and inspire people to conduct safe and high-quality operations.
After successful careers in naval aviation, aerospace, and the oil and gas industry, Jim is passionate about helping leaders and operators perform successfully in hazardous environments.
Get a copy of Jim’s Book here: https://www.jimwetherbee.com/book