Shooting For the Stars is Awesome, But it Takes Some Prep Time – Just Ask an Astronaut

By Ann Utterback | January 27, 2012

I had the opportunity this past weekend to hear Al Sacco speak about his journey to space as a payload specialist on board the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1995. Dr. Sacco, who is now the dean of the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering at Texas Tech University, was chosen for the mission because of his work in chemical engineering.

As a payload specialist, he was not a person who had been in the NASA program previously as an astronaut-in-training. If there was one thing that stood out most for me from his talk (aside from his comments about how much more gorgeous space was than photos could ever possibly capture), it was the incredible preparation it took to get ready for his space mission. The preparation, which took over two years, included everything from learning to not turn your head at all when launching into space (it could prove very messy as the smallest motion will produce a nauseous reaction in even the most iron-stomached astronauts) to knowing every sound that should occur at different points in the launch. When an explosive sound went off, he was not worried because that had been choreographed perfectly into the process of the launch. And, that’s just getting into the launch part of the mission. It was a fascinating talk!

When I listen to amazing experiences like Dr. Sacco’s, I try to think of ways that it relates to my own life, since I can assure you I’m not going to going into space any day soon. And, it came to me that launching a business has similar requirements as a launch into space and that WESST is to our clients like NASA is to its astronauts. WESST’s unique concentration on that preparation process is what allows our clients to succeed.

We emphasize a high value and high impact experience with WESST. We stress this across the board from the expert training and consulting we provide, not just for small businesses just starting out, but also to those that are expanding in our regional offices in Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Roswell, and Santa Fe. We are prepping our clients for all the explosions that may occur along the journey and letting them know when to not turn their heads.

We also have an incubator option in Albuquerque at the WESST Enterprise Center at which we work closely with incubator clients during the critical start-up phase of their businesses. The goal, of course, is preparing those clients for eventual graduation from the incubator. The camaraderie of having many start-up clients in the same location adds to the preparation experience. It allows for the sharing of ideas on a regular basis, much like the team approach NASA used to get ready for its space missions. And, like the NASA program, we are looking toward more innovative ideas in our future, including a new digital studio at our Albuquerque WESST Enterprise Center. Distance learning will be a focus, getting the training to even more clients and even more widespread.

As glamorous as going to space sounds, the hard work and preparation is what makes the success of each mission. This sounds just like the essential steps it takes for a successful business. The similarities between entrepreneurs and astronauts certainly don’t end there. We haven’t even thought of all the amazing scientific experiments that we can do in space that can’t be replicated on earth (including advances in medicines that could take years off of development time that would occur on earth), and we can’t imagine all the wonderful businesses our entrepreneurs will create.

The sky is the limit, or as Buzz Lightyear was prone to say in the Toy Story movies, “To infinity and beyond!” (Well, with a little bit of preparation anyway).

About the Author


Ann Utterback

Ann’s involvement with nonprofits began more than 16 years ago and includes extensive experience on the funding side with the J. F Maddox Foundation for the past 13 years. A former litigation attorney, Ann received her J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1993 after obtaining her B.A. in French from Hollins College in 1990.

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