Astronauts attend Leadership Reaction Course
Astronaut Peggy Whitson, from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, navigates the ropes course confidence at Maxwell's Officer Training School training grounds May 23, 2013. Whitson was leading a team of six U.S. and international astronauts through leadership and teamwork training obstacle courses here to evaluate the potential for future use. (U.S. Air Force photo by Donna Burnett)
Astronauts attend Maxwell Leadership Reaction Course

by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Loicano
Air University Public Affairs

5/30/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., -- In a collaborative training effort, a group of six American and international astronauts participated in an abbreviated version of the Air University Leadership Reaction Course here May 22-23.

Designed to develop leadership skills, the LRC is a field exercise consisting of a series of obstacle course challenges that students navigate as teams during Officer Training School and Reserve Officer Training Corps courses. The astronauts visited the course to evaluate its potential usefulness for future leadership development.

"There are many different types of training and requirements for NASA astronauts, and we are looking at new ways to fulfill leadership obligations," said Peggy Whitson, training lead for astronaut expeditionary skills at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. The department is responsible for finding leadership opportunities for astronauts.

Whitson joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1996 and served as the chief of the Astronaut Office from 2009-2012. She was the first woman to lead the U.S. Astronaut Corps, as well as the first female commander of the International Space Station.

"This training provides us different scenarios and different ways of meeting core leadership training requirements. It allows us to practice teamwork, leadership, decision making," she said, adding that the test run of the training course might be something NASA would consider sending additional astronauts to attend.

During the course, students, or in this case, astronauts, were given a specific obstacle goal, rules and time limit, with a different team leader selected to take charge for each obstacle.

"This is an opportunity for mentors to see folks thrust into leadership situations and watch how they respond. The situations may change when you're out in the operational Air Force or even at the space station, but the issues don't change," said Maj. Rick Kallstrom, director of operations for the Academy of Military Science at OTS. "You still need to lead, follow, problem solve, communicate and build teamwork, and those are the same principles they are learning here."

Although there is a textbook solution for each obstacle, instructors don't necessarily care how students develop a solution. During their time on the course, the astronauts solved several obstacles in a different way than instructors had seen previously.

"It's more about how well did they lead, maintain control of their team and communicate," explained Kallstrom. "It's a good chance to take classroom lessons and apply to real-world scenarios."

Takuya Onishi, an astronaut from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, was one of the group to attend the course.

"I think this LRC is very good for our leadership and followership skills as well as team building. As we went through the first few tasks, I trusted my teammates very strongly, without any doubt," Onishi said.

That sense of trust and cooperation is essential, he said, for working in environments like the International Space Station, where different cultures and languages come together.

"This is more of a realistic situation that we may be in, and this training is really beneficial for us and for me, especially. When we have to work in a team in which crew members have different backgrounds, these obstacle courses help us build our relationship," he said.