9 Things I Learned from Scott Kelly, American Astronaut

By Erika Malzberg April 19, 2016

Thoughts from Tien Tzuo, Founder and CEO of Zuora…

I just had the amazing opportunity to sit down and chat with Scott Kelly, American astronaut and veteran of four space flights, at Zuora’s annual Subscribed Conference this week. Yes, just another day at the office talking with a bona fide hero about spending a year in space.

If you’ve been following Scott Kelly, you know that he’s got an incredible story. Here’s a man who had the dream of going into space, and worked towards this mission for his entire life (well, maybe not his entire life – he admittedly had a rough time at school growing up in New Jersey). But after picking up and devouring “The Right Stuff” in college, he was on course.

Scott just spent 340 consecutive days in space, and set the record for total accumulated number of days spent in space by an American astronaut, at 520. He landed two weeks ago. Despite all these incredible accomplishments, he is a humble, funny, and self-effacing guy.

So why did Scott Kelly do what he did, what did he learn – and what does this have to do with all of us and our future? From risk-taking to the power of a gorilla suit, here are some takeaways from our chat that I will never forget:

“You’re going around the earth at 17,500 miles an hour, 16 times a day. Sixteen sunrises and sunsets a day.”

Scott talked a lot about the different perspectives he gained while out in space. For example, looking down at the Middle East with the glowing Nile, it looks so peaceful. “You can’t see the political borders on a map from space so it all looks like one big team: Team Earth. You get a lot of empathy for what’s going on on Earth when you’re in space.”

Scott Kelly - Middle East

“What I find most rewarding about the space program – what makes it special to me – is doing something really challenging, really difficult, working hard at it, and then being successful and the satisfaction you get from that.”

We won’t all get the opportunity to go into space, but we can all find our own personal and professional challenges to attack and overcome.

“Without risk there is a little reward.”

In this case, Scott Kelly’s risk was our reward. Because of his sacrifices, we’ve learned more about our planet and our world and are one step closer to the future of space travel, and life on Mars. As he said: “If we can turn the Martian environment into a livable environment, that’s great. NASA is all about redundancy of systems – and redundancy of our planet! Having a redundant planet would be something we could probably use some day!”

“NASA got into the social media game a little bit late, but we have recognized that engaging your customer (and our customer is the taxpayer) in a very interactive way where we can try to make them a part of the experience is very valuable to us.”

You know the Subscription Economy has reached critical mass when even a world-renowned astronaut is focused on relationships and engaging customers!

“You miss the human relationships when you’re away, when you’re so detached.”

On the space station, you have so little that it makes you realize all the things that you can actually live without. Like pants – he wore the same pair for 6 months. As Scott noted: “You can get by with very little stuff, and still be productive and be happy.” But you still do miss some things, like human connection.

kelly - aurora

“The earth is a very beautiful place…We need to take care of ‘Spaceship Earth.’”

Scott showed some of the truly amazing photos he took from space and posted on Instagram. Even if “most of the beauty on earth are the places you probably wouldn’t want to live,” when you see our planet from outer space, captured in the inspirational photos taken by Scott Kelly, it’s impossible not to experience true awe. “The atmosphere just looks so fragile. And you get this feeling that we really need to take care of the Earth, because it’s taking care of us.”

Kelly Africa

“When you have a twin brother that’s a former astronaut, you can get a gorilla suit on the space station.”

Why the gorilla suit? As an astronaut, Scott Kelly sometimes goes to schools to talk to kids. As one of those kids who wasn’t able to focus when he was in school, Scott knows you have to work to get kids’ attentions. What gets everyone’s attention is a gorilla suit. Even in space. Duly noted.

“All those small incremental steps together were one giant leap for me.”

As Scott Kelly charts the course his life has taken – “to get from a ‘dumb’ 18 year old who couldn’t focus to where I am today” – he sees it as one small step after another, each building on the previous step. That’s how big things can be accomplished. Find your spark and take one small step at a time.

“If we decide to do it, if we dream it, we can do it. Nothing is beyond our capabilities.”

Scott Kelly shared his big learnings from this mission. As he was backing away from the space station, he reflected that building, flying, and operating this space station was the hardest thing we have ever done. And if we can do that, we can do anything.

For me, this captures the essence of what Scott Kelly has done – and gives me inspiration for myself, for Zuora, and for humanity. Please humor my big ideals here: I just spoke with a man who just came down to Earth after 340 days in space, so I’m of the mindset that anything can happen!

Thanks, Scott Kelly!

subscribed selfie

Read more about what went down at Subscribed 2016 here.