I imagine Space can feel very lonely. A scene from Hidden Figures comes to mind, the one where John Glenn is in a capsule that’s burning up and he has lost all communication with Earth. And in contrast to that, another scene that comes to mind is watching President Obama having a casual Skype conversation with astronauts on the International Space Station.

President Obama talking to astronauts

Photo credit: FRSI

I recently got to meet one of the astronauts who lived in the International Space Station. George Samka was a fellow speaker at Festiwal Sektor 3.0 in Warsaw, Poland. He talked about how the space program is prepared to use tele-medicine and remotely controlled robotics to perform surgery in space.

Later, much later in the evening, we found ourselves and two other speakers in an otherwise empty bar drinking Polish moonshine from a bottle with a makeshift label. George looked at his watch and noted that the International Space Station was about to pass overhead. It was a clear night, so all of us, including the bartender, hustled outside to watch the speck of light silently arc across the sky.

People toasting moonshine

George knew the names of the people up there. He could tell us stories about them. Suddenly Space didn’t seem quite so remote and lonely.

Running a nonprofit, and trying to solve technology problems, can feel lonely, but my experiences in Poland reminded me that none of us are alone in this. Throughout my trip I was struck by the fact that Polish and American nonprofits have a lot more in common than we have differences. Nonprofit leaders all over the world are looking for ways to use technology to improve lives.

In Poland, I met a lot of people and got the chance to learn from them and compare notes. I didn’t necessarily have to travel across an ocean—there are great nonprofit technology communities all over the U.S.—but it was nice to raise a glass to a few neighbors who also live on this small planet and to look up into space with them and realize that there are people up there doing good in their own, impossible way.