Astronaut Screening & Privacy

privacy.jpgFollowing up on the issue of astronaut screening, there’s an article at MSNBC,
Former NASA doctor says agency must do more,” in which “NASA flight surgeon and professional psychiatrist Patricia Santy” discusses the screening which takes place. It’s an interesting article, in which she discusses the tension between NASA’s organizational culture and psychological screening.

What makes the article really interesting is the astronaut’s desire for privacy from the NASA panopticon:

This reticence to submit to formal psychological support programs can lead, Santy argues, to a worrisome practice — secret, private counseling shielded from NASA.

“When either medical or psychiatric issues arise, astronauts will surreptitiously go outside the system because they know it will cause them to get grounded. When that is discovered — and it usually is — there have never been any serious consequences.” This practice has reportedly gone back decades, to the very beginning of the astronaut program.

There’s a number of interesting ideas here–not just that the issues are usually discovered, but more interestingly, that a certain amount of rule-bending is expected as part of the culture. Perhaps there’s intense competition and a need to be seen as better than your peers. Perhaps the reality of lots of people competing to get onto one of the very few flights means that there’s an expectation of occasional wild behavior. That people need to be able to blow off steam. You can’t honestly blow off steam when there’s monitoring and consequences. Sometimes you want to be able to shut the door.

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