Yesterday, Tim Peake was on the radio talking about the European Space Agency’s open application process for new astronauts. As well as having at least a master’s degree in natural sciences, mathematics, medicine, engineering or computer sciences; being able to speak at least one other language; and being put through your paces with physical tests – he also mentioned that candidates’ creativity will be considered as part of the rigorous selection process.
What is it about creativity, you might wonder, that makes it so vital to flying into space?
Well, one answer is found in Steve Jobs’ famous quote about what creativity is: ‘it’s just connecting things’. Sounds simple – but what does that actually mean, and why should it matter to you?
Being creative is the ability to make something new. That’s it.
It is, as Jobs says, connecting things in new ways to produce something original. That new thing could be a painting or a story, but it could also be a product to help you open a jam jar, or a traffic flow system for a busy town, or a way of presenting a complex idea to students.
I think we’ve got into the habit of thinking that creativity has to be about beautiful paintings or music or poetry, and that it can only be done by certain ‘arty’ people – but actually, creativity is needed across every industry – even by astronauts.
It stands to reason that you might need to rely on your creative brain if you’re stuck in space. If I’m one of only three people on the International Space Station, I’d like to feel confident that if one of the knobs or levers broke, and there was no possibility of flying a spare part out, that between us we’d find a way to fix it. Now that might take some engineering knowledge as well as some mechanical skill, but it would also take some creative thinking to look at what we had got available and connect the dots to find a solution.
My creative brain might also help my relationship with my fellow astronauts, so that I could better understand and empathise with them. If one colleague is always offering to go on the solo space walks, I might imagine being in their shoes for a moment, and realise that me incessantly humming David Bowie’s Space Oddity might be the thing they’re trying to get away from. Afterall, no one can hear you scream in space, so it’s useful if you can try not to get on each other’s nerves too much.
I might also need my creativity to help me survive being in such a strange and stressful environment. Have you ever found that when you’re taking a shower, or you’re out for a walk, that the solution to a problem will just ping into your head, as if by magic? That happens because your brain is producing alpha waves – a kind of waking relaxation.
Creative activities such drawing, knitting, and journaling stimulate the same alpha brain waves, and these activities also produce serotonin which decreases anxiety. In that alert but relaxed state, you’re better able to connect seemingly unrelated ideas and so find positive solutions to your problems. Being creative makes you less likely to feel overwhelmed and more resilient to change – exceedingly helpful whether you’re living in space, or though a global pandemic.
So if you fancy jumping aboard a rocket to get to work, perhaps your Bumblebee subscription will be excellent training? Reading will help to build your empathy, and the creative prompts should stand you in good stead for anything Tim Peake (or the little green men) might throw at you. Applications to the European Space Agency open at the end of March – so you’ve got time to start building those creative muscles!
Sending love and creativity,