Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jobs for Aspies - Astronaut

Hey, while you're dreaming, why not dream big?

Given that, depending on the criteria used for what constitutes space flight, there have only been 520+ people that have flown in space, ever, being an astronaut might be the most difficult position to obtain for anyone, much less someone with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Still it is not impossible if Lisa Nowak's (keep this name in mind) pretrial claims are true. Additionally it is likely that people with hidden or undiagnosed ASD have been able to make it into the military even as a pilot though any obvious mention or diagnosis could eliminate them from consideration.

With the addition of the Mission and Payload Specialist classes people outside of the traditional test pilot subgroup have been able to make it into space with NASA. This means that those with advanced education and training in various types of engineering or science have a shot at being selected for a mission based on their area of expertise. Given the high prevalence of ASD folk in engineering and science and the obsessive interest they take in specific areas, ASD may actually prove a strength.

As some with ASD experience clumsiness and a lack of coordination this alone might get them eliminated during the extensive screening process used by NASA. Should that not be an issue then it will come down to the mental evaluation part of the screening process. This process is not widely published (as near as I can tell) and that makes sense, it would be easier to game the system if the screening was known ahead of time. Following Lisa Nowak's highly publicized incident, NASA did a review of its behavioral evaluations (see here, here and here) and found that though their processes for screening were stringent they could be arbitrarily applied and lacking in overall consistency. What was good to see from a psychological evaluation point of view was that they do not claim to eliminate the chance of an 'act of passion' or development of an issue; just reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence. This does not necessarily mean removing the person from the program either, especially once they are selected. Keep in mind that even though you might pass the entrance criteria you will still be evaluated on an ongoing basis so mental health is a premium.

In the previously mentioned reviews Aspergers was never mentioned specifically even after the claim came up in Lisa Nowak's pretrial statements. Still NASA is a highly political environment and any such diagnosis of an ASD issue would likely result in some sort of disqualification though maybe not specifically mentioned. And even if the ASD does not get you the depression, OCD or even social interaction issues may rear their head and cause an elimination.

Aside from NASA there is now more serious commercial efforts to obtain space flight. At this time there is scant information on the selection process as this is still in the pioneer stages. Still with some effort you could find yourself attached to one of the projects (e.g. Virgin Galactic) already in place or even on your own coming up with some method. No one asked the Wright Brothers about their mental qualifications when they set out to achieve powered flight and as long as you obey airspace and safety regulations no one will stop you if you can raise the money and create a craft capable of reaching 80 to 100 km above the surface of the planet.

There is also the concept of paying your own way though if you had that much money would you really be reading this on how to get a job as an astronaut?

For more information on NASA Astronaut Selection go here:

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