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The Right Stuff, Online: Space Agency Crowdsources Astronaut Test

Tim Peake During Spacewalk Image
British astronaut Tim Peake walked in space outside the International Space Station on Jan. 15, 2016. A new online test will help the European Space Agency develop its astronaut selection process. (Image credit: NASA Johnson (via Flickr))

Want to help the European Space Agency (ESA) crowd-test its astronaut selection? A new website lets the public take part in an online astronaut-selection test, which the European Space Agency (ESA) will use to refine the way it chooses astronaut candidates.

Trainers at ESA's European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, have developed a test that runs users through increasingly complicated spatial awareness puzzles, measuring an important factor in a candidate's aptitude for space travel. And the group is expanding its methodology to include the general public.

"ESA is not currently running a selection campaign, but developing tests for astronaut selection takes time and needs to be done right," Frank De Winne, head of the ESA astronaut center, said in a statement

Doing it right means testing the tests that will eventually be used to screen aspiring astronauts — and the agency needs the public's help.

This version of a test to select astronaut candidates is available to try online, and the public's participation will help the European Space Agency refine its testing process. (Image credit: ESA)


The test is relatively easy to navigate, with no sign-in required.

A video screen directive will tell you to adjust an object until it fits exactly into a new position. You're navigating in three dimensions, as you would be in a commercial video game. Add this variable, though: All your moves need to be programmed beforehand, and the goal is to use as few moves as possible.

The various instructions and navigation tools are crude, and the graphics are hard to make sense of. But it’s a fascinating glimpse into what skills and abilities will drive the selection for the next generation of ESA astronauts.

Many of those skills and abilities relate to the disorientation of space.  Even visiting a new city lends a certain disorientation, and space adds a completely new dimension to that disoriented feeling, ESA officials said in the statement. Plus, they added, spacewalks actually intensify the effect because of the surrounding blackness. To get a better sense of how the agency is picking people primed to handle challenges in those environments,head over to the test website and experience the test yourself.

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