March 10, 2008 — To be an astronaut, it used to be that you first had to be a top-notch military pilot. And while that may help today, it is not the only thing NASA is looking for in its 2009 class of astronauts.
Communication skills, problem-solving skills, and being a "team player" will probably top the list of requirements on the new application personality tests. "The old concept of The Right Stuff -— the rugged test pilot, the individualist -— is just not going to work," Jason Kring, who studies human-spacecraft interaction at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, told USA Today.
Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria agrees. "You need to be more of a people person," he said. "You can't just be steely-eyed, no matter how competent."
Applicants must meet physical standards and have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, math or science and three or more years of experience in one of these fields. Those selected will likely spend much time at the International Space Station and play many roles, such as diplomat, linguist, scientist and repair technician.
But astronauts also need to understand humans since crews now include three people, and next year, will swell to six.
"Anybody can get along with anybody for a couple of weeks," says psychiatry professor Nick Kanas of the University of California, San Francisco, who studies astronaut behavior. After a month or two, "being with somebody for that long starts to wear on you. The jokes get stale. You have to learn new ways of interacting."
To get to know the applicants better, NASA will have them make two trips to Houston. Previous applicants made only one.
For the first time, this year's top candidates will also undergo brain MRIs and a special cardiac CT scan to find evidence of heart disease and aneurysms; NASA doesn’t want to evacuate someone from orbit for a medical emergency.
Applications for this new class of astronauts are due July 1, and finalists will be announced in May 2009. They will be the first hired since 2004.
More than 3,000 people are expected to apply for the dozen openings. To learn more, click here.
After completing a simulated launch countdown, the STS-123 astronauts paused to take a group photo at the 195-foot level of the fixed service structure on Launch Pad 39A. From left are Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan and Robert L. Behnken, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson, Commander Dominic Gorie, and Mission Specialists Mike Foreman, Garrett Reisman and Takao Doi. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Mission Specialists Mike Foreman, Takao Doi and Garrett Reisman are safely secured in their seats inside the orbiter to begin the simulated launch countdown exercise. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett