Business lessons from space- avoid moving targets

The second day of the InvestmentEurope Pan European Fund Selector Summit in Hamburg was introduced by keynote speaker Ulrich Walter.

The former astronaut and professor in Astronautics at the Technical University of Munich dress business lessons from his experience. “Travelling to space is a high-risk business, according to Nasa statistics, each space mission has a 1-100 risk of resulting in fatal loss” he warned.

Walter himself went to space in 1993, having undergone the mandatory five-year training period prior to that. Upon his return, he became project leader of the German Satellite Data Archive and head of the institute of Astronautics at the Technical University Munich.

A tragic example of the dangers of space travel was the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster in 2003, which resulted in the death of all seven astronauts. According to Walter, the subsequent investigation into the root causes of the disaster offered key insights with relevance to the corporate world.

“Rather than technical issues, the root causes of the disaster were actually a lack of communication and poor management” argues Walter, citing the outcome of the investigation. Prior to the incident, NASA faced years of resource constraints, fluctuating priorities, a lack of an agreed national vison for human space flight as well as a problem with management failing to listen to engineers and stifling differences of opinion, he warned.

In turn, there were also positive lessons to be learnt from space travel, argued Walter: “Each project should start off by identifying that the requirements for your product are, take your time in identifying these requirements and once you found them never touch them again” he stressed.

The key to project success was then to avoid moving targets, anticipate problems early on and collaborate, he argued.

Going forward, Nasa aims to turn space missions increasingly into commercial ventures, Walter described. “If you don’t have the experience in space, there is a strong chance you would fail, which is why it is so important for any business to closely collaborate with NASA” Walter warned.

Mona Dohle
Mona Dohle speaks German and Dutch, she is DACH & Benelux Correspondent for InvestmentEurope. Prior to that, she worked as a journalist in Egypt and Palestine. She started her career as a journalist working for a local German newspaper. Mona graduated with an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS and has completed the CISI Certificate in International Wealth and Investment Management.

Read more from Mona Dohle

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