Science & Technology

Leadership: Commanding the ISS

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 11:23 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.
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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...

Explore the unknown

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.

Was very cool to learn how the space stations and rockets work.

This was just great. Chris Hadfield was the absolute perfect person to present this material. Bravo!

Interesting thought processes. I liked the "one-page" idea. I would have like to hear some real stories of challenges that occurred during a mission and what the team did to address it.

I have a new appreciation for space travel. The inspiration, insight and "One Pagers" are lessons I will hold on to forever. Thank you Chris Hadfield for this amazing course.


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.

Lee-Anne M.

So love listening to you and your measured description of keeping the crew and the ship alive. Thank you! Just a big "thank you".

Sergio N A.

Sergio N. Andres Jr. Being in command or a crew member, I do believe that all crew are perfectly knowledgeable of everything about their ship., Managing emergency situations of anykind is all part of thr training and of course there is the ground command and control center that is in constant communication with those on board. It is a perfect job Prof . Chris. Really perfect.

Richard G.

Hello, Professor Hadfield! I just wanted to ask you how fast you have to go in a rocket ship, to get into orbit with Mars.

Deborah S.

Leadership should be implemented as a course study beginning in Junior High School. When young people are looking for heroes that they can aspire to one day. they must also be trusted, educated and motivated to lead with purpose and to fulfill goals they not only dreamed they could achieve, but that they reach behind them and pull others forward into the same success. This is what Chris Hadfield has aspired to do and has achieved.

Ugo A. D.

Really enjoyed this lesson as a true leader puts others before himself. I like the way Chris makes it clear that leaders just aren't born they're also made through hard work and dedication.

Jerry R.

Good leadership is of major importance. Some actual examples would have enhanced the lesson.

Rich C.

Hadfield is a natural. I'm sure many if not most of us look at things in similar ways. The details here, as always, are fascinating --and I wish I'd taken leadership (what it means, and skills) more seriously than I did at an early age. But there's always hope I guess (wink). Nice lesson, CH!