PMP:043 Lessons from a Comet Landing (What Can We Accomplish Together?)

The European Space Agency’s historical comet landing of the spacecraft Rosetta in 2014 was an amazing feat I share about in this week’s podcast.

Photo by yasutani – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

First of all, imagine organizing a team of scientists and space engineers who design and launch a spacecraft with the goal of intersecting with a comet 500 million kilometers from Earth. Then imagine ten years later, your findings show the spacecraft is indeed crossing paths with the targeted comet.
From 500 million kilometers away, your Earth-bound team maneuvers the activation of the spacecraft’s previously inert power source, it orbits around the comet, and it attempts a landing.
You must wait a half hour for the data from the spacecraft to transmit back to Earth to even know what its “current” status may be. Finally, the images of the comet’s surface appear on your computer screens and you know the landing has happened. Let the cheering begin! From 500 million kilometers away, a team’s dream had become a reality. The euphoria, amazement, thrill, and adrenaline rush must have been electric.
I get excited every time I think about it.
What challenges are you facing at school, in leadership or in life right now? Here are three questions to keep those challenges in perspective:

1. What kind of team are you on?

No one achieves epic milestones like comet landings by flying solo. Monumental accomplishments like that require teams of like-minded people who can share a vision, collaborate, and execute. Your ambitions may not be as galactic in proportion, but they are still important. And to reach them, you need others.

2. What kind of commitments do you have?

Amazing feats are not accomplished half-heartedly. If you want to reach a goal, you must be dedicated to finishing whatever race you’ve started.
I like to remind students, for instance, that school is like a marathon. You can start off with a big rush of energy, but it is maintaining momentum in the mundane, pushing on even during tough times, and holding on to the hope of reaching the end that keeps runners moving their feet.
The same commitment is necessary to reach any big goals. It’s not easy or sometimes even probable, but without commitment, it is impossible.

3. Are you willing to take calculated risks?

If you or your team are going to reach new milestones, then just doing what you’ve always won’t help.
For example, I was talking to the head coach of our football team last year. His team was 10-1 and entering the second round of playoffs. It had exciting season. But just three years before, his team had no wins. Zero.
What made the difference in three years? When I asked him, he said, “Three years ago after we lost all our games, we asked ourselves ‘What can we control?’ We knew we couldn’t control how we matched other teams in terms of size or speed. But we did know we could control how conditioned our players are.”
His boys began systematic routines of work-outs, weights, and running while still practicing drills, plays and strategy. After each practice, they run some more.
As a result, the team has often seen its strongest performance during the 4th quarter of a games. When other teams are wearing down, and opponent players are holding their sides, his boys are still running strong.
Why? Because they were willing to try something they hadn’t before. And it worked.


Who would have ever thought a man could ever catch a comet. It’s been done. Monumental events like spacecrafts catching a comet or teams winning championships are inspiring. Amazing possibilities lay ahead when you work as a team, commit to reaching shared goals, and decide to risk trying new strategies.

Additional Resource Mentioned in Podcast

Tim Elmore’s Habititudes

Now It’s Your Turn

If anything was possible, what would you dream of doing individually or with your team? Keep sharing and dreaming together this week as you serve students!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker