NASA to Review Astronaut Psychological Screening
Astronaut Lisa Nowak appears with her attorney Donald Lykkebak, right, before judge Mike Murphy at an Orlando Corrections facility on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. Nowak was making a first appearance on attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery and destruction of evidence and battery charges.
Credit: AP Photo/ Redd Huber, Orlando Sentinel, Pool.

NASA is initiating a review to determine whether changes are required to how astronauts are psychologically analyzed throughout their careers, space agency officials announced Wednesday.

A separate review will also assess whether changes are needed to existing psychological screening procedures for new astronauts.

The reviews were prompted by the arrest of current NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak earlier this week on charges of the attempted murder of a romantic rival for the affections another astronaut.

The reviews will address whether “any modifications would be advisable to ensure that our astronauts have the level of psychological and medical care and attention they need,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.

The reviews, Dale said, will address the questions of:

  • When should astronauts be required to undergo psychological screening?
  • What manner and how often during an astronauts career should they be evaluated?
  • Were there any indications from Nowak’s interaction with astronauts and NASA employees that might have suggested something was wrong prior to Monday’s arrest?

The review will involve medical officers outside of NASA and will draw partly upon the results of a study that has been ongoing for 20 years within the agency that track the health of both active duty and retired astronauts, said Richard Williams, NASA chief medical officer at the space agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

“All aspects of medical care and behavioral health care, including potential long term effect of spaceflight, will be of interest and will be addressed by the review group,” Williams said.

Bob Cabana, deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said psychological support is currently available to all astronauts and NASA employees and dismissed suggestions that astronauts avoid seeking help because it might negatively impact their careers.

“We know if somebody needs help, there are services available and there’s no stigma to it,” Cabana said. “It doesn’t prevent anybody from future space flight assignments or anything else.”

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