Testing methodologies in astronaut selection


The first psychological assessment in the selection process usually involves computer-based questionnaires.  It’s important to know that the psychological questionnaires are not used as a ‘select in’ or a ‘select out’ mechanism.  These tools serve to create a baseline insight into someone’s character, and to provide context for behaviors observed during tasks in later stages.  So there is no need to get these questions “right” — it’s best to just answer intuitively and honestly.


Later in the selection process, professional psychologists will evaluate candidates’ responses to various tasks. These tasks might be individual problem-solving challenges, team activities, and/or structured interviews.  One common tool is a “Situational judgement tasks” in which groups of candidates are given an assignment to perform under observation.  These are purposefully stressful scenarios — designed to see how people respond and interact with others.

Tips and Recommendations for Preparation

Preparing psychologically for astronaut selection (and for spaceflight itself) it — for most people — the most challenging aspect of the entire experience.  There is no one training regime to become psychologically fit, but with dedicated personal reflection and identifying areas for growth, it is possible to improve your mental readiness.

Self-awareness: Knowing Your Inner Landscape

  • Tune into your emotional responses in diverse scenarios. Identify situations that particularly amplify stress.
  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. While it's a commonly asked question, many evade honesty about their vulnerabilities. Recognizing and understanding these areas, especially how they might influence task outcomes, is crucial.

Empathy and Understanding: Navigating Social Dynamics

  • Engage with cultures distinct from your own. Approach with curiosity and respect, aiming to gain new perspectives that diverge from your own.
  • In leadership roles, consider how your style adapts to varying situations. What strategies help you maximize the potential of each team member?
  • Conversely, when guided by others, evaluate your efficiency in following directions. Do you ask unneccessary questions in scenarios requiring a fast response? Do you undermine the leader and their decisions?

Stress Management: Holding Your Ground

  • Our daily lives are predominantly safe — modern life helps us to avoid most dangerous situations.  Seek experiences that challenge your comfort thresholds. Reflect on your feelings beforehand, evaluate your execution post-event, and identify any stress indicators you detected.  Remember, external perspectives can often provide the most accurate feedback; don't hesitate to ask for it.

Effective Communication: Bridging Understanding

  • Hone your public speaking skills by addressing varied, large audiences. Solicit candid feedback from trusted peers or mentors on your delivery nuances. Was your message presented clearly and succinctly?
  • Look for opportunities to fine-tune your communication in smaller group settings. When you are asking people to do something, make sure you are giving all of the relevant information.  Did people have to ask for clarification?  Stay tuned in to the feelings and responses from the group throughout the interaction.

Remember, astronauts, like all humans, have flaws. However, their edge lies in their self-awareness and the proactive steps they take for the mission's betterment.

Navigating the challenges of space travel requires both physical and psychological strength. Astronaut selection places a significant emphasis on these mental aspects to ensure that candidates are well-prepared for the unique challenges ahead. As hopeful astronauts, understanding and nurturing these characteristics is pivotal for success in the rigorous journey of space exploration.

If you haven’t read it already, check out the summary of different models used in these assessments in the article Where to Shine and Where to Dim: Psychological Traits Space Agencies Value.