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AcademicsReaching for the stars with astronaut Claude Nicollier

Hotel Institute Montreux (HIM) welcomed the first astronaut from Switzerland, Claude Nicollier, for a special guest lecture where he shared his impressive spaceflight experiences with students and talked about the importance of combining passion with purpose. 

As the first Swiss to ever go to space, Claude Nicollier has taken part in four Space Shuttle missions, has logged over 1000 hours in space and over 6400 flight hours, and was the very first European to take part in a spacewalk during a Space Shuttle mission. Since 2007, he has been a professor at the EPFL university in Lausanne where he teaches a course on “Space Mission Design and Operations”. This is his fourth visit to HIM where he enjoys interacting with students from all over the world.

What inspired you to be an astronaut? 

I have always been passionate about astronomy and aviation. As a child, I was always curious about natural phenomena   I would ask “why is the sky blue”, “why does the sun shine”, and longed for answers to my questions. 

While I was getting my degree in astrophysics, I also became a pilot for the Swiss Air Force. I then worked a few years as a research scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA). I found answers to some of my questions, but by far not all of them! 

In 1978, I was selected by NASA to join the very first group of European astronauts. Going to space brought all of my interests together. The first time I had the opportunity to touch the Hubble telescope with my gloved hands while travelling through space at an altitude of 600 km and a speed of 28,000km/hr was a particularly special moment for me.

Astronaut Claude Nicollier

What life lessons have you learned in space?

I have learned the importance of being thoroughly prepared before doing anything challenging or risky, so that you don’t get caught in a situation where you have no idea what to do. In space, sometimes achieving a goal is a question of survival, its important to always have a plan in place.

High levels of respect and trust were always necessary, both within the seven crew members on the shuttle and between the crew and the mission control center. For me, this is the most remarkable lesson that I took from my experience. Our tasks were very goal-oriented and in everything we did as a team, we worked with trust and mutual respect. 

Claude Nicollier sharing his expriences

What advice would you give our students?

Discover where your passion lies and pursue it purposefully, without getting too distracted. 

When my crew and I were working hard on the space shuttle, we were rather relaxed because we were well prepared and doing something that we really enjoyed. 

Being focused and working hard will make your dreams come true and literally allow you to reach the stars.

Astronaut Claude Nicollier social distancing with SEG CEO Mr Yong Shen
Masterclasses are specialty workshops held throughout the year for interested students to meet with experts in their field. Workshops are an interactive and practical experience for students.
The upcoming masterclasses at HIM include: photo editing masterclass, sushi masterclass, e-commerce masterclass and a guest lecture by Rochschild

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