management and something we call
space flight resource management, which
is communication, situational awareness,
leadership, that kind of stuff.
Research has found that astronauts feel
something called the “overview effect.”
The overview effect has to do with a
sense of connectedness, awe and a feeling of greater purpose astronauts feel as
they’re looking at Earth and seeing the
entire thing. Astronauts talk about a feeling of protectiveness or sense of responsibility. One of astronauts’ favorite leisure
activities is photographing Earth. On the
way to Mars, they won’t be able to see
Earth for most of the three-year mission,
and there’s a concern about this “Earth
out of view” phenomenon.
Is there any spillover between your
work with NASA and your work with
One example is Moonbase, NASA’s
table-top simulation in which the goal
is to get from the launch pad up to the
moon base and back. Our group at Minerva Work Solutions has modified it so
we can use it with our clients in business
settings. It teaches space flight resource
management skills—leadership, communication, teamwork—that are essential
for success in all types of organizations. ■
*Minerva Work Solutions is not part of NASA,
nor does NASA endorse it.
Kelley J. Slack, PhD, is an industrial/organiza- tional psychologist spe- cializing in an unusual workplace: space. “I was never one of
those kids who built model rockets, but I
remember watching launches as a kid and
thinking it was fascinating,” says Slack.
Since 2004, she has been part of the
Behavioral Health and Performance
group at the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA), helping to select and train astronauts. When
NASA decides it needs more astronauts,
the process begins with NASA winnowing an initial pool of 18,000 would-be
astronauts to 120. Then Slack and colleagues step in to identify the candidates
most suited to being astronauts via interviews, standardized tests and experiential
Slack works part-time for NASA and
also has an industrial/organizational psychology business called Minerva Work
Solutions.* The Monitor spoke to Slack
about her work.
What makes would-be astronauts ideal?
A space craft is an isolated, confined,
extreme environment so they must have a
temperament that’s conducive to hostile,
dangerous situations. They have to be
able to adapt to living in a space craft,
which involves a lot of routine tasks,
such as cleaning and maintenance.
Teamwork is essential. But they also
How do you train them?
have to be capable of switching at a
moment’s notice to a more active envi-
ronment. It’s like being a firefighter who’s
in the station doing maintenance and
training and then called out to fires.
With space flight, we’re putting people
in a small container they can’t get out of
in a dangerous situation and seeing how
they handle it. That to me is one heck
of an interesting psychological question.
How can we help them not only survive
but thrive? Astronauts do an incredible
amount of training. They have to learn
Russian, for example, because of the
international aspect of space flight these
days. On the psychological side, we train
them on stress management, conflict
4 QUESTIONS FOR KELLEY SLACK, PhD
Helping NASA select and train astronauts
BY REBECCA A. CLAY
● Further reading “The overview effect: Awe
and self-transcendent experience in space
flight.” Yaden, Psychology of Consciousness:
Theory, Research, and Practice. 2016.