By Chris Chipello
Orbiting the Earth 450 times has given Marc Garneau a bit of perspective.
Seeing the ravages of rainforest deforestation from space, for example, “you realize we are damaging our planet,” the astronaut-turned-politician told Prof. David Lank’s entrepreneurial leadership class at the Desautels Faculty of Management earlier this month. “That’s probably what stays with you the most – the realization we need to think globally, not just locally.”
Looking back over his career, Garneau’s core message to the students was this: “Don’t be afraid of failure; otherwise you’ll never get out of the starting block … Failures fade in time, but regrets never do.”
That means be willing to accept some risk.
Garneau did so when he left his post as head of the Canadian Space Agency to run for Parliament as a Liberal in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges riding west of Montreal in 2006.
He was trounced by the Bloc Quebecois candidate in that first race. But Garneau, now 60 years old, bounced back last October, winning the election in Westmount-Ville-Marie.
The unexpected twists in Garneau’s career path show how experience in one field can prove valuable in others.
As a boy, he became fascinated with the ocean – leading to his first career as a Canadian Navy engineer. But in 1983 he spotted a newspaper ad for the new “Canadian astronaut program.” He had crossed the Atlantic on a sailboat with a small crew, so felt confident he could handle being in confined quarters in a dangerous environment.
Garneau was one of six applicants selected, and the first who went into space – a “magical” experience. He wound up going on three missions.
Another lesson from those trips: the value of “deep introspection.” While waiting for lift-off, “you think about your family, your life, and you think about your responsibilities – and you’d like all that to be done in about five minutes, but you’ve got two and a half hours … I would encourage you all to do it at some point.”