“As an astronaut, especially during launch, half of the risk of a six-month flight is in the first nine minutes. So as a crew, how do you stay focused, and how do you not get paralyzed by the fear of it?

“And the way we do it is to break down what are the risks. And a nice way to keep reminding yourself is, ‘What’s the next thing that’s going to kill me.’ And it might be five seconds away, it might be an inadvertent engine shutdown, or it might be staging of the solid rockets coming off, or it might be, you know, some transition or some key next thing.

“It’s not like astronauts are braver than other people. We’re just, you know, meticulously prepared. We dissect what it is that is going to scare us and what it is that is a threat to us, and then we practice over and over again so that the natural, irrational fear is neutralized.”

Commander Chris Hadfield, to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, on how astronauts handle risk. Read more on NASA in the Longreads Archive.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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