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What can tea with an astronaut and space travel teach us about working in our 50s and 60s?

ceri with astronaut imageArticle by Ceri Wheeldon

It’s not every day you get to have afternoon tea with an astronaut, but recently I was fortunate enough to do just that when I met astronaut Jon McBride recently , who was the pilot of the STS 41G orbiter Columbia. Jon led the mission that took the first female American astronauts into space. Jon always had a clear vision of what he wanted to do ‘when he grew up’.  He knew from watching the early cosmonauts that one day he wanted to be in space- and plotted his path to achieve his goal. He researched the backgrounds of the astronauts selected for training by NASA. He saw that it was Naval pilots who tended to be selected over air force pilots- why? – because they were trained to land aircraft in more confined spaces. So Jon became a naval pilot and achieved his goal of being selected for the astronaut programme.

Space is a great leveller says astronaut Jon McBride.

There were 2 female astronauts as part of Jon’s crew on STS-41-G – Sally Ride, who was the first American woman in space, and Kathryn Sullivan, who was the first woman to walk in space. John says that it was a privilege to have known and worked with both women. John believes that space is a great leveller – as he pointed out in the absence of gravity, physical strength was not required to complete the tasks on board the space shuttle – it was what was between the ears that counted. And women were as effective in space as their male counterparts.

Jon was a delight to meet, a true inspiration, and if anyone else would like to have tea with an astronaut John is running an initiative at the Kennedy Space Centre so that members of the public can do just that! So if you are planning a trip to Florida, it’s one to add to the list.

But in talking to Jon it struck me that with so many roles no longer requiring physical strength, surely in today’s digital economy the internet is as much a leveller as the lack of gravity in space. When developing an online business – or working as part of the information age – isn’t it passion, vision, and ‘what’s between the ears’ that counts? So, with the absence of the need for physical strength we should be able to find success in the workplace irrespective of gender or age.

As we are expected to work longer , perhaps we should be looking at what we CAN to, set our goals,  play to our strengths, and take inspiration from the astronauts. Any thoughts?



Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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  1. Boomer Tuber

    February 23, 2014

    I have been unemployed for 10 years. I started my you tube channel
    for something to do, but in doing it I have learned more about the isolation many older people feel and am looking for an opportunity to start a nonprofit to work on issues of older people/isolation/technology

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