NASA to Review Astronaut Psychological Screening

Astronaut Screening Process Sound, Former NASA Psychiatrist Says
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. (Image credit: AP Photo/ Redd Huber, Orlando Sentinel, Pool.)

NASA is initiating a review to determinewhether changes are required to how astronauts are psychologically analyzed throughouttheir careers, space agency officials announced Wednesday.

A separatereview will also assess whether changes are needed to existing psychologicalscreening procedures for new astronauts.

The reviewswere prompted by the arrest of current NASAastronaut Lisa Nowak earlier this week on charges of the attempted murderof a romantic rival for the affections another astronaut.

The reviewswill address whether “any modifications would be advisable to ensure thatour astronauts have the level of psychological and medical care and attentionthey 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 reviewwill involve medical officers outside of NASA and will draw partly upon theresults of a study that has been ongoing for 20 years within the agency thattrack the health of both active duty and retired astronauts, said RichardWilliams, NASA chief medical officer at the space agency’s Washington,D.C. headquarters.

“Allaspects of medical care and behavioral health care, including potential longterm effect of spaceflight, will be of interest and will be addressed by thereview group,” Williams said.

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

“Weknow if somebody needs help, there are services available and there’s nostigma to it,” Cabana said. “It doesn’t prevent anybody fromfuture space flight assignments or anything else.”

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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.