Former NASA Astronaut and Air Force Colonel
Former NASA Astronaut and Air Force Colonel Cady Coleman is a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions and a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Onstage, Coleman draws from her time at NASA and in extreme “remote work” situations to discuss team building, leadership, and innovation. With her extraordinary photos and videos, Coleman delivers a captivating account of life in space and the importance of diversity, inclusion, and collaboration in accomplishing ambitious goals.
With 180 days in space accumulated during three missions, Dr. Coleman acted as the Lead Robotics and Lead Science officer aboard the ISS, performing the second-ever robotic capture of a supply ship from the station. On the ground at NASA, Cady served in a variety of roles within the Astronaut Office, including Chief of Robotics, lead for tile repair efforts after the Columbia accident, and lead astronaut for integration with NASA’s commercial partners SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Northrup Grumman for supply ships. Her work paved the way for commercial spaceflight collaborations that are now commonplace. Before retiring from NASA, she led open-innovation and public-private partnership efforts for the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters. As a volunteer test subject for the centrifuge program at the Armstrong Aeromedical Lab, Dr. Coleman set several human endurance/tolerance records while performing physiological and new equipment studies.
Dr. Coleman is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM/STEAM fields and a sought-after speaker on a wide range of topics. She is a frequent contributor to ABC News for their Special Reports on current space topics and most recently co-anchored the Netflix/TIME livestream of SpaceX’s Inspiration 4 launch. Her speaking highlights include the opening speech for TED from space, addressing the UN for World Ocean Day, and TED Unplugged in addition to extensive NASA commentary for CNN, ABC, and Fox.
As a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab and Global Explorer in Residence at Arizona State University, Coleman consults on space-related work, including microgravity research. She serves on several boards, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Greenfield Community College, Dent the Future, and Skycatch, an innovative A.I. company that provides 3D mapping data for timely decision-making. She is an advisor to Earthrise Alliance, which uses satellite imagery to provide context for environmental and social justice issues.
An amateur flute player, she is best known for her “Space Duet” with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and her work from space with the acclaimed Irish band, The Chieftains. While on the ISS, she coached actress Sandra Bullock in preparation for Bullock’s astronaut role in the movie Gravity.
Cady earned a B.S. in chemistry from MIT and a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts. Coleman is a pioneer in the research of materials science, biotechnology, combustion science, and fluid physics. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, she was selected as an astronaut in 1992 and flew her first mission in 1995.
In many aspects of our lives, we don’t get to pick our crew. As a result, each member of a team brings unique perspectives, skills, and goals. According to former astronaut Cady Coleman, that’s true of space teams as well, despite the misconception that NASA selects crews based on personal chemistry. Because the mission is of the utmost importance, space crews are put together almost solely based on skill. When the stakes are so high, we don’t let our differences derail our success; they often become the reason for it.
In this talk, Cady draws from her time at NASA and her mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to share what makes a high-performing team. As Dr. Coleman lays out, learning your teammates’ stories, looking for commonalities, and helping each other — as well as being open to help from others — are all necessary to make a successful crew. Coleman illustrates how these elements are key to building any relationship, and will also increase the success of collaborations, and establish a trust that carries you through times of crisis. Although we don’t always pick our teams, Cady shows how we can maximize their performance, in part by celebrating what everyone brings to the table.
An exceptional leader inspires a sense of mission that the entire crew embraces, and cultivates the kind of collaborative mindset that drives mission success for a crew in space.
A veteran of two Space Shuttle missions and a six-month expedition on the International Space Station (ISS), Cady Coleman was the Lead Robotics and Lead Science officer aboard the ISS and the only woman on a crew of six. On the ground at NASA, Cady was known for her ability to facilitate problem-solving among groups with diverse interests by listening and making space for hard conversations. ISS Expedition 26/27 was amongst the first to integrate commercial space companies into the supply process, presenting daunting logistical and technical challenges. Cady’s innovative leadership skills were key to integrating her multinational crew and their ground teams to drive this high-pressure mission to resounding success. In today’s ever-shifting technological landscape, where the roles of humans, machines, and data are constantly in flux, these high-level collaboration skills become even more essential.
With compelling photos, videos, and stories from her experiences in space and on the ground, Dr. Coleman showcases the leadership and collaboration lessons that are essential to navigating tomorrow’s complex challenges. Her focus on establishing both a sense of mission and an essential openness between crew members is the key to inspiring every team to perform beyond their expectations.
Cady Coleman is no stranger to isolation. A retired NASA astronaut, Cady flew on two space shuttle missions and spent six months aboard the International Space Station as the Lead Robotics and Lead Science officer. Cady’s extreme “remote work” experiences also include an Antarctic meteorite collecting expedition — living in a tent 200 miles from the South Pole – and living and working for 11 days in an underwater habitat.
Cady’s years of experience as a member of isolated teams connected remotely to critical on-the-ground support teams have given her rare expertise. Cady shares her insights into establishing trust, collaboratively solving problems, and maintaining close connections from afar – when failure is not an option. Cady’s adventure stories will spark the imagination, give new context to the idea of mission-driven, and inspire your teams to find new ways to collaborate.
One of the greatest lessons from human spaceflight has come from the opportunity to view the earth from space — seeing the absence of boundaries between countries, continents, and peoples make it clear that Earth – and space— belong to all of us. Having lived for six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Dr. Cady Coleman has been privileged to see the world from that perspective.
Back on earth, Coleman shares her experiences and her view that our planet is really a giant spaceship – and we are its crew. Cady envisions a future where people around the world work together to solve problems that impact all of us. This is the kind of successful collaboration that resulted in the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), now approaching its 20th year of operation. With 16 countries working together in space and on the ground – day and night – it has been home to people from all over the world, with different languages, beliefs, perspectives, and goals.
Sharing this and other real-world experiences to show the impressive results of diverse and inclusive collaboration, Dr. Coleman shows how working together, with people we might not ordinarily have thought to work with, is essential to overcoming some of our greatest challenges.
For six months, Dr. Cady Coleman lived on the International Space Station with limited resources and little room for waste. On a small spaceship, getting rid of waste is a challenge, and it forces one to rethink the way we use and discard everything — from food and water to tools and packaging. Much like life aboard a spaceship, our supplies on earth are limited and our waste must be managed. According to Dr. Coleman, the technology required for life on our resource-constrained planet is not so different from preparing for life in space or even life on Mars. As sustainable technologies devised by NASA often find themselves repurposed for everyday use, space exploration is a fantastic “technology accelerator.”
With her unique orbital perspective, Dr. Coleman shares her insights and vision for achieving our sustainability goals. “Recycling our air, our water, learning how to grow plants in a place where it’s hard to do that — those are steps getting us ready to go to Mars, but they are also very important for sustaining us here on Earth,” Coleman says. Basic necessities, food, water, tools, and electricity could all be working in a “closed loop.”
Cady also draws from her work in public-private partnership efforts to share the ways businesses across the world are already operating in a closed-loop — eliminating waste through repurposing and recycling — with hopes of being greener and cutting costs. As space exploration hinges on sustainability and the most innovative ideas often come from constraints, Dr. Coleman makes the case for space science as a fundamental field for sparking innovation and sustainability.