“If there is one thing we can learn from space travel, it is self-awareness”

Climate change, traffic gridlock or other problems which move us globally: Professor Ulrich Walter reports on how the journey into space has changed his thinking and what, for example, companies in the logistics industry can learn from space travel. He was in 1993 as a payload specialist with a shuttle in space and has been teaching space technology in Munich since 2003.

You were one of eleven Germans in space: How did it change you?

This is an incredible experience. After such a journey, you are simply a different person. Imagine coming back to your hometown much later and wondering how small it all is. That’s the way it feels to look at earth from space.

Can this experience be shared with other people?

Of course, when I talk about it, people are first impressed. The only problem is that everything is gone the next day. However, once you have experienced something like this yourself, it changes your thinking in the long term – and that is what is important.
What experience in space did impress you the most?
The most beautiful is the cooperation with people who give everything for the mission – due to their knowledge of the associated dangers: Because despite high tech in space travel, in one out of 100 missions there are casualties. I have never experienced such passion in a team again.

Ulrich Walter

“Risks and an enormous pressure require very precise processes, perfect project management and the ability to learn from mistakes. Only then can a mission be successful – in space and on earth.”

We live with very concrete problems, be it climate change or increasing urbanization – how can experiences like yours in space help us solve our problems on earth?

It is often about finding solutions that prepare us for future development. But this is, on principle, very difficult, because most of the future prognoses are unfortunately wrong. The reason for this is our linear way of thinking: we transfer past experiences into the future and believe that there will be roughly the same rules there. But this is wrong! The world is more of a chaotic system. There are also rules there – but very different from the ones we know from the past. Only in this way can it be explained that disruptive innovations repeatedly manage to completely change markets and industries.

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The world as a chaotic system – this is what many companies experience internationally. Now, they often rely on digital solutions. Can space travel help to think innovatively apart from technical issues?

We can learn a lot from space travel. First and foremost: Space is not science but self-awareness. And self-awareness regarding our place in the universe. From the perspective of space, it immediately becomes clear: We are not the center of the cosmos or the navel of the world. On the contrary, we can be history very quickly. For example, an asteroid impact is sufficient for that. And there is something else to learn: the future is in principle unpredictable because it is subject to coincidences. The question is: how do we deal with such a future? There are certainly strategies for finding solutions beyond our own thinking.

“Astronaut Ulrich Walter: We can learn a lot from #space travel. Space travel has to do with #self-awareness.“

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The logistics industry is looking for ways to find the most efficient transport options for their customers. What can such companies learn from space travel?

Very much, because behind it there are incredibly complex processes with many very different employees. For example, space travel is about how to deal with risks and the enormous pressure on all those involved. This requires very precise processes, perfect project management and the ability to learn from mistakes. Only then can a mission be successful – in space and on earth.