Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can You Be an Astronaut?

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where we really and truly are mourning the passing of Neil Armstrong (not Neil Young). I'd better go and gather some rosebuds, because time is really flying.

In my sermon today I will get inside Neil's head, and the heads of those who flew similar missions.

I guess it was probably some time in 2009 that I found myself in some doctor's office, waiting for either the Heir or the Spare ... and waiting ... and waiting. I was reading a magazine (can't remember which one, but this is a blog, so I don't have to be specific). The magazine had a long article in it about the psychology of astronauts.

It stands to reason that astronauts have to be in tip-top physical shape. But what's going on in their heads?

Turns out these folks are not Type A personalities. They are not hot dogs, or show-offs, or especially daredevils. The Apollo astronauts (and all other space travelers) were chosen because their minds were very, very bland.

Of course you want astronauts who won't panic if the space ship starts to come apart piece by piece. So these men were chosen for their ultimate grace under pressure. They had to have the right stuff mentally, which translated to very, very calm, very, very rational psyches.

After the first spate of daredevils, Houston did vast psychological testing on astronaut candidates. And then picked people who were more like Spock than Kirk.

Example from the article: Someone asked one of the Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon to describe the experience. He answered, "We successfully completed the mission."

Have you ever heard of an astronaut who wrote a poem? An astronaut who sang the blues? An astronaut who cried while watching "The Notebook?" Forget it. Those dudes were chosen because they were calm and focused.

The other day I watched some footage from last year when the government gave Neil Armstrong some gold medal for national service, a really big honor, biggest you can get. He was addressing both Houses of Congress. And his speech was really, really boring. And clearly written out, no ad lib. He didn't smile or cry. Calm as a cucumber.

That's the way these guys were. Many of them are still alive, and they don't give good interviews. They would rather play golf than talk.

History places astronauts squarely in the role of scouts. Natural selection gives us men and women who carefully go into new places, carefully observe, carefully get themselves back to home base, report, and then ... only then ... do the Type A personalities rush in.

But if we were all like that, our only music would be the whir of an engine.

Neil Armstrong accomplished his mission. May he have found the Summerlands. What They will make of him There, I have no idea.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sounds like astronauts must be people who are emotionally buttoned down. I can see why that would be useful in a crisis or emergency but a drawback in other areas of life. Of course, that can be true of many attributes.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Edgar Mitchell. Just saying.
Of course, he could have changed a lot since he was first picked as an astronaut.
Hell, it was one of my childhood ambitions, to be an astronaut. Thank gods it didn't happen, or I'd have a harder time escaping the machine than I do anyway.
terri in Joburg

Katie said...

That sounds about right. From what I understand the hot-blooded wild thinking types were in the control room- they were the troubleshooters. I can vouch to that fact for at least one of them; my great-uncle Allen was a troubleshooter during the Apollo program.

Chas Clifton said...

Yes, Edgar Mitchell. But aside from that ...

There were, however, many episodes of wild in-formation Corvette driving among the original Mercury Seven, weren't there?

Maybe the Apollo-program crews were more technocratic.