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Science & Tech

Leadership: Commanding the ISS

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 11:22 min

Chris describes the great honor and responsibility of commanding the ISS, ranks the commander’s priorities, and outlines what it takes to reach and fulfill such an elite and difficult leadership position.

Chris Hadfield
Teaches Space Exploration
The former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.


Commanding the world's spaceship was a huge privilege. It's a huge responsibility. I'm here talking to you right now about it because I think the experience is rare enough and interesting enough and deep enough that it has value to other people's thinking, that you should consider what's going on right on the edge of the human experience. What does it mean, not only to us as a group of people, but what, individually, does it mean for one of us to be able to do that? How did you get to be a commander? What type of person do you need to be to do the things you're dreaming of? I think those lessons go beyond just the few months that I was commanding the spaceship. And I feel like there's an absolute necessity to share all those lessons as well as I possibly can, as just part of the natural follow on of the huge privilege of commanding the space station. The world only has one International Space Station. It's the world's spaceship. And so you take that part very seriously as an astronaut, but even more so when you're the commander of it. But you also have the lives of the people onboard. You're there with five other people. And it is a dangerous place to be, just by the very nature of being away from the planet. So you have that added responsibility, not only of the structure and the cost and the complexity of the ship, but of the health and, ultimately, the lives of the other five people on board. Takes a lot more work to be a commander than to be a crew member, but I think it's also more rewarding. I thought about it for a lot of years. How can I be a useful commander? How can I do this job as well as possible? What is it we're actually trying to accomplish together? What are the measures of success? If you're going to lead properly, you have to know what victory looks like. In our case, we defined victory-- number one, we are all going to live. Pretty simple. None of us are going to die doing this. If one of us dies, then nothing else really matters. So we agreed collectively that we would sacrifice everything to keep the six of us alive. Ship doesn't matter. Assuming that the six of us were going to live, then the next priority for me as commander, and to try and instill in the behaviors and thoughts of my crew, was, assuming all of us are going to live, then the ship is going to live. We're going to keep care of this extremely precious resource. We will, in fact, not only try and keep the ship alive, but the sub-agenda is, we want to hand a ship over to the next crew that's in better shape than when it was given to us. We're not the builders of this ship. We're not the owners of the ship. We're just taking care of it for a little while and passing it on to the next generation of astronauts that are on board. And then our third objective was the prime purpose of being there, and that is to get as many things done as possible, to try and make that as productive a spaceship, a science platform, a research station, to do all the things...

About the Instructor

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The most Remarkable class I am sure I will ever take!

i loved the 1-pager lessons and the anecdotes about lessons learned at different times during his experiences :)

I truly enjoyed this informative and engaging class. The instructor continues to be excited about the subject matter, after all of these years, and his attitude stimulates inspiration of what is possible.

Insanely intelligent yet so humble. Am a fan!


Bernardo F.

I'm taking a leadership course in order to get a scholarship, but gosh, it's soooo boring. They treat you as if only by believing you're a good leader and making the others believe so, then you're prepared. Chris, this 10 minutes have been better than the whole course. It's really interesting to know priorities, how an organizational scheme can change suddenly if necessary and how to act when the situation requires it. Nevertheless I cannot imagine all that but being 400 km above the Earth and counting with just 5 people.

William D.

Liked his 3 priorities; The Crew, The Ship, The Science. Very Similar to a company I worked for in the 2000's. I used it the rest of my career. I don't agree that you can get along with "everyone". You've got much more selection on the ISS crews than in regular life. Chris never did say how he got to be chosen as ISS Commander. Was there educational or experience requirements? Can "only" crew rated as pilots serve as commander?

Almitra G.

This is superb. Love the way the story is told. It is soo gripping. Love it !

A fellow student

It is a very comprehensive way to understand the complex world of space exploration and how astronauts prepare for their missions. Also, the way Mr. Hadfield explain this topic with many details and in so understandable manner makes this lecture one of the best. Specially the part of taking risk in order to achieve what one wants.

Aileen C.

I think this is one of the most important lessons - How everyone can work as a team - that to me makes the leader.

Vinicius M.

I am really enjoying his masterclasses. His explanations are very concise and well-structured. Besides, what a great personality!

Guillaume C.

Very good lessons, Chris Hadfield is very good in explaining all these things in a simple and understandable way

Maddie W.

I really love the way that Chris Hadfield always takes the extraordinary experiences he's had in space and boils them down to practical ways that we can all improve our lives on Earth. It's so important to encourage leadership and communication skills because some people may not think they're necessary; however, Chris reminds us that stepping up to improve yourself and others is something that will always pay off in the long run. It certainly makes better astronauts and I believe it also makes us better citizens to the world and to each other. “You don’t have to command a spaceship to find any of that useful.” Such a powerful and uplifting message for the next generation of world leaders.

Nakul M.

Leadership is about influencing the people to achieve the objective (paraphrased from what I remember). Well said!

Steve H.

I am impressed with the various chapters of this course. Col. Hadfield is an exceptional personality. I appreciate that he studied leadership in his teens which demonstrated that he was mature beyond his youth. That he continues to discover easy to be a leader is not surprising. His gifts of curiosity, intelligence and desire have made him a compelling person.