This November, BMC Exchange London will bring together a community of IT and business professionals for a day devoted to run and reinvent strategies, networking, and knowledge sharing.
We are thrilled to feature an inspiring keynote address from Major Tim Peake CMG, British Army Air Corps officer, European Space Agency astronaut and a former International Space Station crew member. Major Peake spoke with BMC to give us a sneak peek of what to expect from his mainstage appearance in London on November 12.
At BMC, we believe innovation is enabled by optimization—which is to say, if existing operations are running efficiently, then doors open to additional possibilities for invention, expansion, and competitive edge. Can you relate to this in terms of your own career and what you’ve achieved personally and professionally?
In terms of technology, pushing the boundaries, and the unknown – the ethos fits my life quite well because I’ve gone with that model in terms of being flexible to opportunity. I think it’s a great analogy for anyone with big dreams. To be honest, I didn’t have the dream to be an astronaut from boyhood—I’m not like some of my colleagues in that way. I did initially want to go to space but as I grew up my passion for that was replaced by a love for aviation. I’ve looked at my life in two-year blocks as a way to measure progress—a series of small dreams (Ed: a relative term, we assume) and trying to achieve them. By focusing on your passions and what drives you, and doing the work to achieve each step, you make yourself open for more opportunities. I wanted to be a pilot and I achieved that, but first I became a helicopter pilot, an instructor, a test pilot and then ultimately an astronaut.
In tech we talk a lot about the importance of people/process/technology, meaning changes to one are changes to all, and careful considerations for all are required for any major initiative. From what I’ve read, so much of your amazing adventures in space depend on mundane but important details and hundreds of critical personnel who never see the spotlight. What are the parallels there?
Yes, absolutely. In training, you’re constantly aware of just how many people are helping you achieve your goal, which is actually your entire team’s goal. We’re a very strong-knit team; we’ll bounce around everywhere doing our training – Japan, Russia, Europe, Canada and the United States—and yet we’re all gelled together. The teamwork is critical. We transcend political differences because we’re all working to a shared goal. In tech it’s the same—when you have something you’re working towards and your goals and duties are shared with those you work with, you can achieve so much more.
Passion helps—so many of the people I work with are engineers or scientists who love everything to do with space. Everyone has had a similar dream and worked hard to achieve it. We have an internship in Cologne. On a daily basis I’d be going down to speak to young grads or interns who are 19 or 20—and their passion and drive is amazing. They have fresh perspectives and ideas and energy. Everything they say and do really matters. They are given amazing responsibilities and we commit to making them feel valued from the very start. This contributes to the team mindset and it’s carried through to everyone.
The spacewalk sounds like an amazing way, as does the entire shuttle adventure, to see Earth with new perspective. For the rest of us who won’t get the chance to work in a space vacuum, what lessons did you take away that we might apply to our own lives and careers?
Everyone (who has been able to take the spacewalk) has a very personal experience—you take away a huge appreciation for the fragility of the planet, the thin strip of gas that keeps us alive down here. You see it every sunset and sunrise. It’s the only planet we know of right now that can support life. It promotes keen stewardship of what we need to do to look after our planet. And the perspective goes the other way—the universe is phenomenal, a vast black expanse seen from space, and it makes us (here on Earth) feel very tiny. It’s a dichotomy. On the one hand we are tiny and insignificant, but on the other hand we’re the only known living beings in the universe. The fact that the universe has managed to arrange some particles into complex living organisms that can travel into space and reflect on their place in the universe is truly remarkable.
This is what astronauts often talk about. For me, I reflect on that a lot. It makes large problems seem small. It gives you confidence and optimism. I’m hugely optimistic in tech and the human spirit.
If you had the chance to go to space again, what would you do differently or want to take on that you weren’t able to before?
I would love the opportunity for a future spacewalk. I would study certain areas of the planet because now that I have an idea of what you can see from space, I would photograph more, I would spend time studying specific areas, and so on.
In terms of future missions, we’re looking at going beyond low earth orbit again, and we’re building the Lunar Gateway space station together with all the ISS partners to help make the moon more accessible. We expect it to launch in 2022-23, with boots on the moon by 2024.
When you think of the possibilities of technology, including those you personally have experienced, what do you see in the future? Will we all be visiting space soon?
Right around the corner is clearly AI (artificial intelligence). We don’t really have it at the moment—we have clever machine learning—but the real thing (artificial general intelligence) is going to be amazing—and quite daunting. We are having careful discussions about how to control it, and how we can protect ourselves from it. How to build trust with machines and computers. Quantum computers and true AI will enable really remarkable things.
In terms of space travel for everyone, yes, it’s really just another few steps away. I think the commercialization of space travel is really interesting. Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other companies are engaged in commercializing space travel and making it accessible, with ambitions to send people to the moon and Mars. It’s expensive but so was aviation in the 1920s, and now many people enjoy the ability to fly relatively inexpensively.
Hear more from Major Tim Peake at BMC Exchange London on November 12. Learn more and register now to attend.