Cannes, France – Cannes Lions Health was kicked off with a story about just what’s really possible when people refuse to give up on their impossible dreams.

Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut, knew what he wanted to do from the time he was six years old. Then, he saw Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and believed it was the most important thing he’d see – and be part of – in his lifetime. 

Over time, though, that dream dimmed because he believed it was impossible. It was one of those childhood dreams – like becoming a circus clown or a fireman – that most people let go of as an adult. Massimino had trouble with his eyesight, was afraid of heights, and didn’t like to move very fast. Not exactly the profile of an astronaut.

He went to school to be an engineer but came back to the dream in the 1980s when the space shuttle program opened up new career opportunities in NASA. No longer did astronauts have to be military pilots. Instead, they were welcoming other backgrounds (like engineers) and new demographics (like women).

He applied. Six months later, he got his answer.

It was no.

He doubled down and started working on a Ph.D. He studied for a year for the entrance exam and failed it. In fact, he said, “I set a record for failure.”

He tried again He didn’t want the regret of wondering, “Did I give it enough? Did I try hard enough?”

He eventually graduated from MIT and became a research engineer at NASA. He kept applying to be an astronaut and finally got a phone call back to participate in a week-long interview. Still, they rejected him. In fact, he was medically disqualified for his eyesight.

So, he decided to retrain his eyes.

He worked with a doctor to learn visual equity exercises to improve his eyesight. It worked. He technically qualified and waited for the next call for astronauts.

On his fourth try, Massimino was accepted into the journey of his life.  Even as the countdown to his first flight was happening, he was expecting someone to knock on the hatch and tell him he couldn’t go.

Once in space, the look back was overwhelming. He said, “it’s what heaven must look like.” At that moment, he was so grateful that he didn’t give up all those times.

That first flight was on the Challenger, a shuttle that would be destroyed in a terrible accident in just one year’s time. After that explosion, NASA stopped the Shuttle program and additional trips to the Hubble Telescope.

Still not taking no for an answer, Massimino worked with his peers to find a way to get back. They built a program that would let one team go to the Hubble and have another shuttle on backup to come get them if they couldn’t return safely. That’s what took Massimino back to space to ultimately complete a critical repair.

With that completed, he went on to join the crew of the Big Bang Theory, playing, you guessed it, an astronaut.

The probability of Massimino becoming an astronaut was low. As he puts it:

“The odds were .00000-something. But it wasn’t zero. It was non zero. As long as I was fighting for it, it was non zero.  Don’t give up on your dream.”

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.