NASA Paul Sean Hill

• Former NASA flight director Paul Hill had a high-stakes job managing various space shuttle and International Space Station missions for the program.

• Hill shared the strategies he used to keep calm when things went wrong in mission control.

• He told Business Insider such tactics included focusing on the data, tamping down impulses, and retaining a level of “fear.”


Looking back now on an incident that took place in 2001 while he directed a flight from NASA’s mission control room, Paul Hill often thinks, “Holy cow, we could’ve killed everybody.”

But in that moment, during the space shuttle Discovery’s March 2001 expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), Hill just focused on the facts at hand.

The shuttle was docked at the ISS when a flight controller flagged the fact that one of its two cooling loops had essentially stopped working — possibly due to ice forming inside the system.

If the ice broke off, it could ultimately damage the cooling system and burn out Discovery’s computers.

The crews and mission control would then have about half an hour to either risk loss of life and initiate an emergency de-orbit, or remain stranded on the space station with a dead shuttle.

“That wasn’t good news,” Hill told Business Insider.

Hill, the author of “Leadership from the Mission Control Room to the Boardroom: A Guide to Unleashing Team Performance,” worked on 24 different space shuttle and ISS missions as a flight director and led the investigation into the 2003 Columbia disaster.

He told Business Insider that NASA’s flight controllers employ certain strategies and thought processes to combat stress during crises. Those tactics came in handy during the 2001 incident.

NASA Paul Sean Hill

‘We would’ve lost that shuttle’

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