• Question: How will non-scientists become astronauts and contribute to the understanding of living and working in space? I remember being excited by the first Moon landing in 1969 and have always loved space fact and space fiction. But it seems life in space is for individuals with STEM backgrounds and who are extremely healthy and fit. Please do not misunderstand me, I appreciate why these are pre-requisites, but what might happen to people who do not conform in this way? Will they, in time, be excluded from one of the most exciting forms of exploration in human history?

    Asked by Heather Prendergast to Steve, Rochelle, Kevin, Katie, Jon, Jean-François, Floris, Claudie, Camilla, Beth on 1 Jan 2016.
    • Photo: Steve Price

      Steve Price answered on 1 Jan 2016:

      Today flight in space is physically demanding and so requires fit people. Some of the developments underway at this time will make access to space easier. We are gathering more data on the effects of long term space travel on humans. With all this knowledge coming together, there will be an understanding of how people can survive in space.
      When colonies are established in space, whether in interplanetary space, on Mars or on a Moon, there will be lots of people at these locations.
      They will need doctors, dentists and others to monitor their health. They will have children and so there will need to be teachers in the colony. Someone will have to cut all these peoples hair. Someone will need to cook food in the canteen. Someone will need to perform all the maintenance on the various appliances, from tv s to cookers to games consoles. The list goes on.
      In fact everything we need to have a functioning society on Earth will be needed in an extraterrestrial colony.

    • Photo: Floris Van Den Berg

      Floris Van Den Berg answered on 2 Jan 2016:

      Hi Heather,

      the reason the requirements/standards for astronauts are so high because space agencies don’t want to invest a lot of years of training and money in someone that has a higher chance of becoming ill.

      When space travel becomes available for more and more people, a more normal fitness will be required. Do take into consideration that the G-forces with liftoff are quite demanding for the human body so people need to be a bit healthy to survive that!


    • Photo: Jean-François Clervoy

      Jean-François Clervoy answered on 18 Jan 2016:

      Hi Heather,

      Actually, the first generations of astronauts or cosmonauts were not scientists. They didn’t have high-level STEM academic education but were selected exclusively based on their wide operational experience (except one moonwalker Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, who was a geologist). They were all high-performance jet pilots. The Space Shuttle era opened the following selections to a wider spectrum of professions based on STEM background, not so much for tasks requiring their former expertise, since astronauts work still today just as operators of various complex machines, but more because the space agencies realised that diversity of backgrounds and experiences enriches the crew with a wider range of mind-sets and for thinking of possible solutions to unexpected situations. Therefore this contributes to increasing the overall performance of the group, just as biodiversity does in nature. As long as spaceflight will require all members of the crew to contribute to maximising the chance of success, they will need to be educated with both STEM and operational backgrounds. Even more, for future long-duration or long- distance missions, our human spaceflight programmes will likely look for even more rich STEM profiles, such as candidates with double degrees in many disciplines, such as piloting and medicine, or engineering and astronomy, or professional diving and geology. More non-STEM professionals will progressively be given access to space when tasks will not require all space flyers on board spacecraft to be qualified, and when the incurred risk will be reduced lower than the current 1% chance to die during a space mission.