ESA Astronaut Selection Proceeds with Psychological Exams

Arnaud Beck, director of clinical research at MEDES, a health subsidiary of CNES. (Credits: MEDES)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The recruitment of the next ESA astronauts continues. Phase 2 began with the psychotechnical tests and will continue until the end of May with the psychological assessments. 404 French men and women are still in the race.

22,523 Europeans had applied last year to become a member of the European Astronaut Corps. A 1st selection on file selected 1,361, including 250 French and 154 French women, who therefore began phase 2 at the start of the year. And that’s where the serious stuff begins. 

“Phase 2 is divided into 2 stages ,” explains Arnaud Beck, director of clinical research at MEDES, the health subsidiary of CNES, and in charge of organizing part of the tests. The 1st (called phase 2.1) takes place in Hamburg, it involves psycho technical and cognitive tests : memorization, mental calculation… There is also an exercise which takes place in front of a control screen: the candidates must manage several parameters simultaneously, using different joysticks and controllers. They are also assessed on their level of English. This stage, which ends in early March, should see around 400 candidates access phase 2.2, which began on 01/31 in Cologne, at the European Astronaut Center (EAC).

TELL ME WHO YOU ARE…

Being an astronaut requires various skills and qualities. A good physical condition, of course, but also a steel mind! Psychological balance is essential to fight against the effects of confinement, isolation, stress…

Astronauts remain today 6 months in the International Space Station (ISS) . It will be more on future lunar journeys. We understand the importance of psychological assessments, which constitute phase 2.2 of recruitment. Each candidate is evaluated during a day at the EAC, via a series of exams – all in English of course – including an interview with a psychologist who explores their personality, and another faced with 4 people: 2 psychologists, 1 member of ESA human resources and an astronaut. 

This second interview focuses more on the profession of astronaut. The candidate must also pass 3 tests: a personality test using a questionnaire, a pair test with another candidate where their ways of communicating are judged and finally a group test. Part 4, the candidates must solve a problem together, under the watchful eye of the examiners.

TO BE FAIR

“Each candidate is evaluated during this day by 5 people,” explains Arnaud Beck, but not always the same. We have to ensure that all 400 candidates are assessed in the same way. By standardizing the way in which interviews are carried out, by setting up precise scoring grids, by preparing examiners in advance, etc. We strive to be homogeneous, so that recruitment is as fair as possible. The nature of the tests is equivalent to that of the last campaign in 2008 – which saw the appearance of Samantha Cristoforetti, Luca Parmitano, Alexander Gerst, Timothy Peak, Andreas Mogensen, or even Thomas Pesquet.  The novelty: the paper has disappeared, all tests and results are now computerized and data stored on secure servers.

After that? The few dozen candidates who will have been selected at the end of this phase will have to undergo a complete medical check-up, either in Germany or at the MEDES clinic in Toulouse.

Everything is done to ensure that all candidates are evaluated in the same way, that recruitment is as fair as possible.

For the time being, the psychological assessments are continuing until May, seeing a succession of fighter pilots, doctors, robotics engineers, oceanographers… “The atmosphere? Excellent! “, assures Arnaud Beck. The candidates, despite the competition that recruitment represents, have lunch together, take their picture at the end of the day… Who knows, one and the other may one day be brought to support each other for several months in a future lunar station?

NUMERICAL INFORMATION

22,523 Europeans applied to become ESA astronauts, 24% of them women. France is the most represented country with 7,087 candidates (31%), followed by Germany (3,695) and the United Kingdom (2,000).

1,361 were selected for phase 2, including 404 French (29%), still at the top of the number of candidates in the running. Among them, 250 men and 154 women. And maybe one or more future astronauts…

THE HEALTH CRISIS WITH LITTLE IMPACT

8 candidates per day, 4 days a week, for 13 weeks … Psychological assessments follow one another at the EAC (European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany), which is not immune to the constraints imposed by Covid-19. FFP2 masks for all, Plexiglas partitions … Psychologists must adapt to these new provisions. 

“But for the moment, smiles Arnaud Beck, doctor at MEDES, in charge of the organization of part of the tests, the health crisis does not impact our organization too much. There have been few schedule changes due to candidates testing positive. And we have provided the necessary replacements if ever a reviewer proves positive.” These tests should continue until May.