Choosing the Right Stuff: The Psychological Selection of Astronauts and Cosmonauts

Choosing the Right Stuff: The Psychological Selection of Astronauts and Cosmonauts

Choosing the Right Stuff: The Psychological Selection of Astronauts and Cosmonauts

Choosing the Right Stuff: The Psychological Selection of Astronauts and Cosmonauts

Synopsis

For the first time the history of the psychological and psychiatric evaluation of astronaut and cosmonaut candidates is detailed. The general public and many professionals assume that psychological issues have been and will be extremely important factors in successful space exploration. This book, however, documents how NASA underutilized, downplayed, then ultimately ignored psychiatric and psychological characteristics in selecting astronauts, until very recently.

Excerpt

Or a man could go for a routine physical one fine day, feeling like a million dollars, and be grounded for fallen arches. It happened! -- Just like that! (And try raising them.) Or for breaking his wrist and losing only part of its mobility. Or for a minor deterioration of eyesight, or for any of hundreds of reasons that would make no difference to a man in an ordinary occupation. As a result all fighter jocks began looking upon doctors as their natural enemies. Going to see a flight surgeon was a no-gain proposition; a pilot could only hold his own or lose in the doctor's office. To be grounded for a medical reason was no humiliation, looked at objectively. But it was a humiliation, nonetheless! -- for it meant you no longer had that indefinable, unutterable, integral stuff.

-- Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

Flight surgeons are frequently viewed with a combination of suspicion and scorn by most pilots because of the enormous power they have to interrupt and even terminate a pilot's career. If being grounded for fallen arches is humiliating, imagine the humiliation the aviator experienced if he was grounded for psychological reasons. Unlike the case of fallen arches, a psychiatric disqualification carries an additional cultural burden of shame.

There is a tendency in our culture to be somewhat "anti-psychological." The American experience and heritage have always been oriented more toward seeking control over the outer world than toward understanding the inner one. On the whole, we eschew introspection and prefer action. Thus, the pilot -- and by extension, the astronaut -- is culturally revered and is symbolic of the American preference for exertion over emotion.

One effective defense mechanism aviators utilize to deal with emotional problems is to trivialize them. Thus, psychology and psychiatry become . . .

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