Selecting an Astronaut Discussion with Dr Gerhard Thiele

The astronaut selection panel discussion that took recently place at ISU central campus, combined medical doctor, psychologist and astronaut perspectives. International Space University (ISU) MSS19 students Scott Ritter and Fabio Zecca report on this exciting opportunity for engagement and knowledge exchange.

 “I would like to meet the first person to ask, ‘What would it be like if I could go there?” — Dr. Gerhard Thiele.

The International Space University Masters in Space Studies (MSS) program hosted Dr. Yvonne Pecena—a psychologist from Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Department of Aviation and Space Psychology—and Dr. Gerhard Thiele—a physicist by education, Head of the European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Office, and retired ESA astronaut—in a panel discussion, moderated by Prof. Volker Damann—ISU Faculty and former Head of Space Medicine at ESA.

After a brief introduction by Prof. Damann, a five-minute Canadian Space Agency video showed how, in the harsh environment of space, the ability to adapt and work under pressure is crucial. Astronauts spend thousands of hours in simulations training for the demands of the hostility of the space environment, where they need both technical and team skills to succeed, combined with focus and situational awareness. The reality of an astronaut’s job involves problems where there is no clear path forward, keeping cool, following procedures, and finding creative solutions. Therefore, astronaut teams must be skilled at working together and persevering to find solutions to these difficult problems.

The astronaut selection itself is a highly demanding process, with an intricate series of cognitive, medical, psychological, and professional examinations, not to mention the associated international political issues. Dr. Thiele shared some impressive statistics, which showed that out of more than 8,400 ESA astronaut applicants, only six candidates were selected. Despite this, the astronaut selection process has some elasticity, since it is open to modification depending on the number of total applicants and the number of requested astronauts.

Altogether, the panel discussion was engaging, dynamic, and multi-faceted. It combined all aspects of the astronaut selection process—the medical evaluation, the psychological evaluation, the candidate’s point of view, and the administrative and organizational structure. Another great discussion and educational success at ISU!

Photo Credits: Fabio Zecca
From left to right: prof. Volker Damann M.D., Dr. Yvonne Pecena, Dr. Gerhard Thiele