Curiosity safe on Mars – five business lessons you can learn from NASA’s latest triumph

The internet was focused on just one thing yesterday – the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.

It’s the first rover sent to the red planet in several years and by far the most technologically advanced. Social media platforms including Twitter exploded with comment yesterday as the spacecraft touched down at about 3.30pm.

After $US2.5 billion spent and months in transit, Curiosity will spend the next several months roaming the surface, millions of miles from its planet of origin. It’s a huge win for the American space agency.

But while some entrepreneurs may not be interested in space exploration, the Curiosity rover landing has some key lessons for businesses. Not just in its preparation, but in NASA’s detailed research, risk-taking and, yes, even its use of social media.

So if you haven’t caught up with Curiosity yet, here are five lessons you can learn from NASA’s latest push into space:

1. Research and development

The Curiosity rover cost NASA $US2.5 billion. It’s a huge amount of money – but it’s also money well spent and could lead them to getting more.

This is an election year. At a time when both American presidential candidates are increasingly looking for ways to cut the country’s huge deficit and pay down its debt, any and all government programs could be axed.

But thanks to NASA’s successful landing, it’s unlikely any president will have the political capital to scrap its funding. The research and development hasn’t just paid off for NASA in finding new scientific discoveries – it’s possibly helped them to secure even more funding.

Research and development is hard work, and it’s risky. But the benefits can be huge and can lead to significant opportunities to keep your business alive and thriving.

2. The importance of good team work

During the lead-up to the Curiosity landing, NASA streamed video of its jet propulsion laboratory for the public. Anyone could log on and see what they were doing.

The first thing that strikes you is that this is a large group of people. But they’re all working towards a single goal, with their own piece in the puzzle.

Landing a piece of equipment on another planet – on the other side of the sun – is hard enough, but it’s harder if you don’t have everyone working together. A complex plan requires a cohesive and focused team.

Team work is something that’s often thrown about in offices, but it’s never really explored beyond tacky exercises. Drill into what makes your team work and focus on those strengths.

Your business is only as good as your staff. Invest in them, and create a team that will help you realise your vision.

3. Planning goes a long way

You may have just tuned into the Curiosity landing, but NASA has been working on this for some time. The spacecraft launched in November 2011, but has been in construction for years. And before that, detailed planning would have been reviewed for months upon months before any testing had begun.

The landing of Curiosity took seven minutes, but planning took years. Even the tiniest of details requires careful planning.

Business planning is essential, as most entrepreneurs will know. But don’t stop at just your business plan. Risky and careful decisions require careful planning – be sure to never let it slide.

4. Risk-taking can be necessary

Risk is bad. But it’s also necessary.

The risk of the Curiosity mission simply landing on the planet was huge enough – there was only a 40% chance the rover would even survive the trip through the atmosphere. Those odds are not good.

But they’re also necessary. The benefits of this mission are too many to number, especially if the team finds some evidence Mars could have sustained life at one point in its history.

Risk, by definition, involves a chance of failure. But don’t let your business be held back by your aversion to making a wager. Build up a sustainable business, and then bet on yourself.

5. Injecting personality into social media

You may have been following the NASA Twitter account through the Curiosity mission yesterday, but there’s also another account that’s built up a following – the account of the Curiosity rover itself.

Over the past few months, the account has been giving status updates with a hint of personality, and yesterday it ramped up the activity.

“I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!” it said in just one of its informal tweets. The account has surged in popularity, reaching 731,000 followers – many of whom just started following yesterday.

It’s a good lesson in the importance of personality in social media. It’s all about conversation. Give your Twitter or Facebook account a bit of life, and watch how your followers respond.

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