The Right Stuff: The Psychological Process of Astronaut Selection

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Thousands apply to be astronauts and only a handful are selected. It takes nearly 2 years for an individual to go through the rigorous interview process of becoming an astronaut and then they may have to wait up to 10 years to go into space. Physically, the requirements are lax in comparison to what has been portrayed in movies. Generally, they want astronauts who are fit, who see well even with glasses, are free from addictions, illnesses or mental disorders. These requirements sound easy enough. So, why is it that less than .15% of all applicants make it to space?

The psychological requirements to enter space consider not just the unique work environment but also the grueling nature of the work.

Here are some psychological traits that a future astronaut or space lifestyle adventurer needs:


If you look up the definition of intelligence you will see that no two psychologists will define it the same way. Like love, intelligence is an idea; a construct that includes many factors. Intelligence is not only the ability to be successful in school, but it must also contain an ability to assimilate and accommodate new information into one?s understanding. A person can have gifts in verbal areas, math skills, visual spatial understanding, music, athleticism, emotional understanding, and many more.


This is part of intelligence. Cognitive Acuity looks at the speed with which an individual assesses a situation and formulates a plan based on that understanding. Right from wrong is usually not difficult to distinguish. However, in stressful situations, many individuals tend to respond with the typical sympathetic or parasympathetic responses of fight or flight. Only those with good cognitive acuity stay in the fray, assess, act and resolve situations.


When assessing individuals to see if they have the right stuff to be astronauts, psychologists have a very difficult job. Not only must they make sure that an individual is free from mental disorders, but, they must also predict their behavior in the future. Human beings are not like robots and we cannot program them to react to stress or discomfort in a positive way. One of the unofficial ways psychologists address this issue is to look for ?the good neighbor? traits. Just like the term states, they are looking for the ways of being a good neighbor possesses. Is the individual kind, friendly, convivial, respectful, helpful, consistent? Does this individual like sharing?


Things change quickly in space. Being able to adapt to new surroundings shows intelligence and is a very valuable personality trait. Some folks cannot live without their shampoo and others can?t get started without a cup of coffee. However, in space, or even on Earth, these things may not be accessible all the time. The adaptable person shifts their needs to their surroundings.

The true list of psychological qualifications to be an astronaut are still a highly guarded secret. What isn?t a secret is what is needed to be a highly regarded human being here on Earth. Honing these skills and abilities may not get you into space but they will make you a valued member of a family and community.

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