NASA is Looking for Very Specific Personality Traits in Their Potential Mars Astronauts

Sunday, 27 May 2018 - 1:31PM
Space
Mars
NASA
Sunday, 27 May 2018 - 1:31PM
NASA is Looking for Very Specific Personality Traits in Their Potential Mars Astronauts
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NASA
Do you think you have what it takes to be an astronaut? Are you no-nonsense and good at working alone? Because that won't help you.

When NASA is undergoing the difficult and lengthy process of selecting new astronauts for a Mars trip, they do indeed take personality into account. After all, when they send a team of humans into the isolated vacuum of space, they'll need to think quickly, be ready to try new things, and work well with other astronauts. And unlike astronauts aboard the International Space Station, mission control won't be able to quickly help a crew on Mars during an emergency.

A new study published in American Psychologist takes a more in-depth look into NASA's psychological examinations of potential crew members for long-term space missions, and a key thing they take into account is how well the crew will be able to a) efficiently cooperate during emergencies and b) not drive each other insane during the more quiet portions of the mission. Teamwork is important here, and a sense of humor also helps.



Interestingly, while NASA likes extroverts, they don't want any astronauts to be too extroverted, just like they don't want anybody who's overly introverted. Why they don't want super-extroverted folks is never explicitly stated, but it perhaps calls back to that "not driving each other insane" factor.

According to the study, the following traits are considered to be ideal, although NASA keeps their precise requirements under wraps because of how competitive the pool of potential astronauts is:

Opening quote
"The suggested personality profile includes high emotional stability, moderately high to high agreeableness, moderate openness to experience with a range of acceptable scores, a range of acceptable conscientiousness scores that are above a determined minimum value, and a range of low to moderately high extraversion that avoids very high scores. Similarly... extreme high or low values for any personality factor indicated that the individual was not suited to be an astronaut."
Closing quote


The study also points to a sense of humor as being important, as being able to crack a joke can help reduce tension and therefore help with conflict resolution and the crew's morale. Although it has to be an appropriate humor, because an astronaut who's constantly insulting everyone else in the crew wouldn't be too helpful with any of the above. 

Essentially, it all comes down to teamwork. From a purely scientific standpoint, the crew of a Mars mission needs to be able to work together like cogs in a machine, and a crew that gets along well - with minimal personal spats among team members - is key to dealing with problems when mission control is back on another planet.

For anyone who's read Andy Weir's The Martian (or seen the movie), perhaps it's not too surprising that the ideal Mars astronaut sounds a lot like the story's protagonist, Mark Watney.
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