Mike Mullane Profile

From combat reconnaissance missions over the skies of Vietnam and Space Shuttle missions, to climbing some of the highest peaks around the world, Astronaut Mike Mullane knows what teamwork, leadership and safety are all about. His programs, books, and DVDs on these topics have educated, inspired and motivated tens of thousands of people from every walk of business and government.

Growing up during the space race in the starry-skied deserts of New Mexico, Colonel Mullane always knew he wanted to be an astronaut; however with poor eyesight and an average student record, his prospects of working for NASA did not look good. After graduating from West Point, he completed 134 combat missions in Vietnam, where stressful and frequently unpredictable conditions taught him important lessons on teamwork, safety, and leadership.

After NASA implemented policy changes, Colonel Mullane secured a coveted spot as a Mission Specialist. He underwent six-and-a-half years of intense training before embarking on three missions into outer space where the ex-military pilot found himself learning to collaborate with a very different group of people than he was used to, including feminist pioneers and post-doctorate scientists.

Since retiring from NASA, Colonel Mullane has published several critically acclaimed books and educational materials compiling the valuable lessons he’s learned throughout his daring career. His fun delivery, real-world take on life in space, and personal story are all testimonies that even if you weren’t the number one student in your class, you can make your dreams come true.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio
      • Colonel Mullane was born September 10, 1945 in Wichita Falls, Texas but spent much of his youth in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he currently resides. Upon his graduation from West Point in 1967, he was commissioned in the United States Air Force. As a Weapon Systems Operator aboard RF-4C Phantom aircraft, he completed 134 combat missions in Vietnam. He holds a Master′s of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and is also a graduate of the Air Force Flight Test Engineer School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

    Mullane was selected as a Mission Specialist in 1978 in the first group of Space Shuttle Astronauts. He completed three space missions aboard the Shuttles Discovery (STS-41D) and Atlantis (STS-27 & 36) before retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1990.

    Mullane has been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and is the recipient of many awards, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit and the NASA Space Flight Medal.

    Since his retirement from NASA, Colonel Mullane has written an award-winning children′s book, Liftoff! An Astronaut′s Dream, and a popular space-fact book, Do Your Ears Pop In Space?</i His memoir, Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, has been reviewed in the New York Times and on the Jon Stewart′s The Daily Show. It has also been featured on Barnes and Noble’s 2010 recommended summer reading list.

    Mullane has held a lifelong passion for hiking and summited Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, on July 23, 2010.

    Colonel Mullane has established himself as an acclaimed professional speaker on the topics of teamwork, leadership and safety. He has educated, entertained, inspired and thrilled tens of thousands of people from every walk of business and government with his incredibly unique programs.

Mike Mullane Speaking Videos

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Mike Mullane's Speech Descriptions

Outspoken and entertaining, Colonel Mike Mullen delves into his past as a USAF officer and astronaut to deliver powerful messages on safety, teamwork, and courageous leadership. Supplemented with rare NASA photos and impactful slides, Colonel Mullen’s presentations have translated his experiences to audiences across all sectors from banking to sales, opening listeners’ eyes to the vital effect their decisions and actions have on their teammates, organization, and own goals and aspirations.

Countdown To Teamwork

In “Countdown To Teamwork” Astronaut Mullane delivers a hard-hitting, substantive teamwork and leadership program that is also wonderfully entertaining. (In places the content is laugh-out-loud funny.) The program centers on the following fundamentals of teamwork:

  • Guarding against a "Normalization of Deviance"
  • Responsibility
  • Courageous Self-Leadership

    “Countdown To Teamwork” is remarkably inspirational and humorous. The audience will come away from the program with a renewed sense of their potential and the potential of their teams.

    Countdown to Safety

    In his program, “Countdown To Safety”, Astronaut Mullane delivers a powerful message on the individual’s role in keeping themselves and their teams safe in hazardous environments. Mullane introduces this subject with a recount of his own near-death experience in a fighter jet, when he failed to speak up about an unsafe situation. He assumed another crewmember, with more flying time, “knew best” about the safety of their operations. At a critical moment in a hazardous operation, Mullane surrendered his responsibility for safety to someone else and became a “safety passenger”. The result was his (and the pilot’s) narrow escape during their ejection from the crashing jet.

    Mullane continues this thread: that each individual brings to their team a unique perspective on safety. Only when every person’s perspective is available for analysis can a team be truly safe.

    Another significant message within Mullane’s “Countdown To Safety” program is his discussion on “Normalization of Deviance.” He uses the space shuttle Challenger disaster to define this term, its safety consequences, and how individuals and teams can defend themselves from the phenomenon.

    Challenger was the result of a failure of a booster rocket O-ring seal. Viewers will be shocked to know this failure was predicted: “It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to solve the problem, with the O-ring having the number one priority, then we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities.” (From a NASA-contractor memo dated six months prior to Challenger).

    When a burn-damaged O-ring (a criticality 1 deviance) was first observed following the second shuttle mission, NASA, under enormous schedule pressure, convinced themselves the problem could be fixed with minor modifications to booster assembly procedures and that a grounding the fleet (required for a criticality 1 deviance) was not necessary. As flights continued safely the correctness of the decision to accept the deviance was reinforced. Slowly the team’s launch decision-making became infected with this logic: repeated success in accepting a “grounding” deviance implied future success.

    Challenger was a “predictable surprise.”

    After defining “Normalization of Deviance”, Astronaut Mullane continues with an explanation of how individuals and teams can defeat this dangerous phenomenon through these practices:

  • A. recognizing one’s vulnerability to it; if it can happen to NASA it can happen to anybody.
  • B. plan the work and work the plan…under the umbrella of “situational awareness”.
  • C. listen to people closest to the issue.
  • D. archive and periodically review near-misses and disasters so the corporate “safety” memory never fades. (The loss of the space shuttle Columbia…17 years after Challenger…was a repeat of "Normalization of Deviance”. NASA’s safety memory had faded over those 17 years.)

    The messages delivered in “Countdown To Safety” are reinforced with rarely seen NASA video and slides. The program is hard-hitting and fast-paced. It is certain to open the eyes of every viewer to their individual criticality to team safety.

    The Lighter Side of Spaceflight

    In his program, The Lighter Side of Spaceflight, Astronaut Mike Mullane will take the audience on a uniquely revealing, captivating and hilarious space journey. Using spectacular video and slides he will answer everybody’s space questions: What does a shuttle launch feel like?...How does an astronaut deal with the incredible fear of launch?...How do you sleep, bathe, eat, drink, etc.?....What do you see from space?...And, of course, he will answer the top two questions that astronauts are ever asked:

  • Number 1: How does the space toilet work?
  • Number 2: Has he seen any UFOs or aliens?

    The answers to these questions and many, many more are lavishly wrapped with inside, hilarious stories and supported with amazing video.

    The audience will not only be thoroughly entertained by The Lighter Side of Spaceflight but will they will also find Mullane’s message on goal setting and achievement to be powerfully inspirational. Most audiences are shocked to learn how ordinary Mullane was. People assume, because he is an astronaut now, that in his youth, he was a super-child, destined for great success. That is not the case. Mullane uses slides and video to prove he wasn′t a child genius. He wasn′t a high school sports star. He didn′t date the homecoming queen. He wasn’t popular. (He shows a slide of the dedication pages from his high school year book…which are blank except for a single inscription: “You missed Korea but here’s hoping you make Vietnam.”)

    Yet, Mullane realized a lifetime dream of becoming an astronaut through the practice of “mapping the edge of his performance envelope”. Every individual and team has an “edge of a performance envelope” and individuals and teams find those “edges” (as team member, leaders, parents, spouses, etc.) through self-challenge and tenacity. (Mullane’s father was rendered a paraplegic at age 33 by polio and Mullane’s story of his parents response to that tragedy while raising six children is the basis of his message on tenacity and goal-achievement in the face of adversity). Mullane develops this philosophy of self-leadership: "Success isn′t a final destination. It′s a continuous life journey of mapping our performance envelopes through challenge and tenacity."

    The Lighter Side of Spaceflight is remarkably inspirational and humorous. The audience will come away from the program with a renewed sense of their potential and the potential of their teams.

  • Mike Mullane on Speaking

    I want people to understand that they can do a great deal more than they think they can.

    SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn and take away from your presentations?

    MULLANE: I want them to understand fundamentals. I really emphasize that in my programs, and I want them to understand that guarding against normalization of deviance is critical to team and personal success. I want audiences to understand about responsibility and accountability. There is a sense of ownership that flows from our behavior, from our actions, our inactions, our belief systems, and our value systems. We own what occurs.

    Furthermore, I want people to understand that they can do a great deal more than they think they can. It takes guts and courage, but through incremental challenge, we can really do some incredible things, take our teams to incredible altitudes, and it doesn’t have to be one giant leap. We don’t all have to be Jack Welches or some of these other A-list leaders we hear about. Pretty ordinary people, pretty ordinary teams can do extraordinary things when they live by a belief system in which we challenge ourselves to be better than who we are right now, and we challenge ourselves to the next goal.

    SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event, and how do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

    MULLANE: When I have a client that’s interested in booking me or has booked me, I make certain that I look at their website. I telecom with them at least once to make sure I understand the theme of the meeting and what takeaways the clients want the audience to have when they walk out. Then, I look back on my experiences and see how those relate to the theme of the program, to the takeaways, and the message that the client wants me to develop.

    One thing I really enjoy is when I go out with a client…they’re learning something from me, I hope, but also, I’m learning from them.

    SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements and/or unusual situations arise while you’re on the road?

    MULLANE: I’ve certainly been to many different areas that were memorable in the course of my speaking business. I’ve been to South America multiple times, Mexico, Canada, Europe, China, and the Middle East. I’ve traveled quite a bit delivering my message, because it has been widely received and in demand.

    One thing I really enjoy is when I go out with a client and learn something from them. They’re learning something from me, I hope, but also, I’m learning from them. I sit at some of their meetings before I’m introduced and get a feel of some very great leadership that I see reflected on the stage. I take that away myself and use some of what I’ve learned to be better the next time I present to an audience.

    I’ve spoken to Fortune 10 corporations, many Fortune 500 corporations, and small mom-and-pop outfits, the latter of which are always great learning experiences because you can see the legacy of the family business’s development. It’s a great symbiotic type of relationship when I’m out there on the road giving these talks, because I’m sharing my knowledge with them while learning from the knowledge they’re presenting; as a result, I’m able to come away from these events smarter.

    SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

    MULLANE: I think a lot of people who are involved in hazardous operations can really identify with my story because these people are in industries where lives depend on team actions. They can identify with the lessons I develop around Challenger. Teams that are involved in oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, aviation, and construction can really take away a lot from my program.

    Every team, though, regardless of their operating environment, can take away a great deal from the program, because I discuss fundamentals that every team needs to practice in order to succeed. Teams are differentiated by what they are trying to achieve, but there are universal rules to how teams operate, no matter their industry or goals.

    As I tell people, “The only difference between teams are the rewards of success and the consequences of failure.” We all get to our rewards by following the best practices, great teamwork, and great leadership. We all get to those rewards the same way, with our eyes on the fundamentals, but we will find our challenges, our disasters, and the ugly, predictable surprises awaiting us when we violate our best practices.

    In my Air Force career and at NASA, I really saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of teamwork and leadership.

    SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

    MULLANE: In my Air Force career and at NASA, I really saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of teamwork and leadership. After I retired, I lived through the Challenger disaster, which was very personal, very tragic, and heartbreaking. I could see there were some very important lessons to learn from that particular tragedy and from some other things I saw in my military career. I thought that if I could develop a program to share lessons learned from these events, it could help other people be better and might even save somebody’s life.

    I would like to think over the many, many years that I’ve been doing this, specifically for people that operate in hazardous environments, that something I’ve said has saved a life – that somebody there heard me mention the dangers of normalization of deviance, saw that they were engaging in some shortcutting of best practices, and made a course correction to get back on the right side of those best practices. There’s of course no way of knowing, but I think I’ve had a very positive effect on many teams and particularly those where lives hang in the balance. Exclusive Interview with Mike Mullane
    The Fundamentals of Teamwork with Astronaut Mike Mullane
    In this interview, Mike Mullane discusses:

    • Fundamentals to any team's success.
    • Normalization of deviation and how it led to the Challenger disaster.
    • How incremental challenges and self-improvement can take you to new heights.
    Read the Full Interview

    "As many organizations introduce pressures on the team - things like production pressure, schedule pressure - people get tempted into shortcutting those best practices and they get away with it."
    - Mike Mullane

    What People are Saying about Seeing Mike Speak

    Rating Entries

    What clients are saying about Mike…

    “You will be pleased to hear that your messages are reverberating around the hallways here. I don′t recall any other speaker who has created so much positive dialogue. Well done!”

    “We have had management retreats for the past ten years and your presentation was the most successful one ever. Thank you very much for your words of wisdom which apply to every aspect of our business. The feedback from everyone was extremely positive!”

    “I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your presentation for the employees at Ross Products. You said a lot of things that really hit home. Thanks again for your words of inspiration.”
    Ross Products (event organized by Speakers Platform)

    “WOW! Mike your presentation this morning at Ross was fantastic. I really enjoyed your humor, examples and candid message. The information you presented is applicable to all areas of business and life. Thanks again for a very enjoyable morning.”
    Ross Products (event organized by Speakers Platform)

    “I just wanted to tell you how absolutely outstanding your presentation was yesterday. I missed getting the chance to say goodbye and wanted to be sure you knew just how much of an impact you had on our audience. I know in the near future, you will be hearing from our leadership team who will be sending a special recognition of our appreciation. In the meantime, I just needed to mention that our listeners, from Analysts to Partners benefited from your messages. It was evident how much of an impact you made when I could hear your same messages repeated during the remainder of the day by leaders who delivered the afternoon sessions. In particular, our most senior leaders were so impressed, I wouldn′t be surprised if you were invited to speak to a broader selection of that leadership team. My sincerest thanks for making the trip and sharing your experience with us.”

    “I could not miss the opportunity to tell you how absolutely pleased, entertained and educated we were, by Mike Mullane’s talk to our group. I have been doing this a long time and I can not think of a better, more focused and “spot on” talk. I will certainly recommend him for future engagements here!”
    US Bank

    “I just wanted you to know that we are starting to get back the results of our conference survey and are seeing nothing but great responses to Mike Mullane. I believe many walked away with a validated sense of priority for their projects and initiatives. Mike managed to impart some very wise and important messages about team play and individual responsibility…they are not mutually exclusive as some might have thought. Mike′s personal experiences have shed light on ways to achieve goals through focus and determination.”
    American Automobile Association

    “I hope this e-mail finds you well and your autobiography well on its way! The feedback from the TL Forum last month on your keynote has been simply tremendous. I have personally fielded numerous requests for the slides you presented specific to teamwork and leadership. I noticed while you were speaking people trying to write down your quotes and wisdom as fast as they could.”
    Boston Scientific

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    Books by Mike Mullane:

    Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut

    On February 1, 1978, the first group of space shuttle astronauts, twenty-nine men and six women, were introduced to the world. Among them would be history makers, including the first American woman and the first African American in space. This assembly of astronauts would carry NASA through the most tumultuous years of the space shuttle program. Four would die on Challenger.

    USAF Colonel Mike Mullane was a member of this astronaut class, and Riding Rockets is his story — told with a candor never before seen in an astronaut′s memoir. Mullane strips the heroic veneer from the astronaut corps and paints them as they are — human. His tales of arrested development among military flyboys working with feminist pioneers and post-doc scientists are sometimes bawdy, often hilarious, and always entertaining.

    Mullane vividly portrays every aspect of the astronaut experience — from telling a female technician which urine-collection condom size is a fit; to walking along a Florida beach in a last, tearful goodbye with a spouse; to a wild, intoxicating, terrifying ride into space; to hearing “Taps” played over a friend′s grave. Mullane is brutally honest in his criticism of a NASA leadership whose bungling would precipitate the Challenger disaster.

    Riding Rockets is a story of life in all its fateful uncertainty, of the impact of a family tragedy on a nine-year-old boy, of the revelatory effect of a machine called Sputnik, and of the life-steering powers of lust, love, and marriage. It is a story of the human experience that will resonate long after the call of “Wheel stop.”

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