Astronaut. Photographer. Entrepreneur.
Terry Virts retired from the space program after having achieved nearly everything he ever dreamed possible, including serving in the U.S. Air Force as an F-16 fighter and test pilot, piloting the Space Shuttle Endeavour, serving as Commander for the International Space Station, and conducting three spacewalks during a 200-day mission in 2014 & 2015.
During his seven months in space, Terry led a multi-national team that included Russian Cosmonauts, U.S. and Italian Astronauts, during some of the tensest relations with Russia since the Cold War, and through 3 onboard accidents that resulted in an extended stay in space. While there, he took more than 300,000 photographs and hours of video—the most of any space mission before or since. These images form the backbone of the IMAX film, A Beautiful Planet, featuring Terry and narrated by Jennifer Lawrence. National Geographic published View from Above, a book featuring some of his best images alongside his reflections on spaceflight, stewardship of life on earth, and our place in the cosmos.
A compelling speaker and regular contributing instructor at Harvard Business School, Terry shares his insights in a wide variety of venues, from Fortune 500 Board rooms to concert halls, to Title One schools. In September 2020, his highly anticipated 2nd book, How to Astronaut: Everything you need to know before leaving Earth, will be published.
Photos: courtesy Terry Virts
Disruption + Innovation Shifts Organizational Culture
Terry examines key events in aviation history to show how organizations have been able to shift culture and innovate to remain relevant, along with the painful paths they sometimes take to get there. For example:
The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster might have been avoided if the chain of command had been allowed to come from the ground up. Prior to Columbia (and 17 years before that with Challenger), you had to prove the vehicle wasn’t safe to fly, or else you launched. It would take a disaster to flip the culture into the proper mindset: proving it was safe to fly before launching.
Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy disrupted the entire space program. In 2005, NASA estimated 2021 as the earliest date it would develop its SLS (space launch system). That same year, SpaceX started the development of its Falcon 9 program and would launch its first rocket in 2010. The shift in space travel from wholly government-run to private partnership was traumatic but necessary. For NASA to thrive in this new environment, it needed to learn to embrace change—without ideology, or emotion. SpaceX now regularly ferries cargo to the ISS.