Astronauts are People Too

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 8, 2007 in Science |

Lisa Nowak

I’ve been watching the current media circus with dread these last few days, and the 24 hour cable news cycle has a nasty way of chewing up people and spitting them out. And any topic connected with crime also has a vengeful kangaroo court feeling to it, which is why my heart goes out to Lisa Nowak and her family.

The fact is that there are very few who get to have the title of “astronaut” in any given genertion, only a very small group of people get to go through this high pressure process. In fact in terms of statistics your chances are much better of being a rock star or becoming a Senator than getting to fly into outer space for a living. So while Lisa is being mocked in the media, I’d like to ask everyone to remember that she is a real person, and to give her the benefit of the doubt before passing judgement:

Did huge career pressures aid astronaut’s undoing?

“US astronaut Lisa Nowak’s fall from grace – she is accused of trying to kidnap and kill a woman she considered a rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut – has raised a plethora of unanswered questions from a shocked public. Chief among them: how someone who passed the stringent psychological screening required to become an astronaut could have snapped like this.

But scientists aren’t nearly as shocked as the general public. “It doesn’t surprise me that this might happen occasionally,” says psychiatrist Nick Kanas of the University of California in San Francisco, US, who studies astronaut behaviour on long-term space flights. NASA takes medical histories to screen for psychiatric problems that tend to run in families, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But no battery of tests will reveal how well astronauts will cope with the ups and downs of daily life.

“Astronauts are very capable people, among the stars of our society. But they have changes in their lives, have issues with their spouses and kids just like you and I might,” Kanas says. “They might be superhuman in their jobs, but not in terms of relationships and their potential for emotional problems”.”

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