Did huge career pressures aid astronaut's undoing?

 作者:倪肤和     |      日期:2018-01-18 06:02:10
By Kathleen M Wong (Image: NASA) US astronaut Lisa Nowak’s fall from grace – she is accused of trying to kidnap and kill a woman she considered a rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut – has raised a plethora of unanswered questions from a shocked public. Chief among them: how someone who passed the stringent psychological screening required to become an astronaut could have snapped like this. But scientists aren’t nearly as shocked as the general public. “It doesn’t surprise me that this might happen occasionally,” says psychiatrist Nick Kanas of the University of California in San Francisco, US, who studies astronaut behaviour on long-term space flights. NASA takes medical histories to screen for psychiatric problems that tend to run in families, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But no battery of tests will reveal how well astronauts will cope with the ups and downs of daily life. “Astronauts are very capable people, among the stars of our society. But they have changes in their lives, have issues with their spouses and kids just like you and I might,” Kanas says. “They might be superhuman in their jobs, but not in terms of relationships and their potential for emotional problems.” Indeed, Nowak and her husband of 19 years separated a few weeks ago, according to a statement released by her family. The statement added, “These alleged events are completely out of character and have come as a tremendous shock to our family”. Ironically, some of the qualities and requirements to produce a capable astronaut may have played some role in stoking Nowak’s obsession. Space training can require astronauts to be away from home and loved ones for many months at a time. The exercises often throw astronauts together in extreme conditions to test their performance under stress. Though they never flew together on a mission, records show Nowak and Oefelein they did attend the same survival training session in Canada in 2004. Most astronauts are relatively young and in excellent physical health, putting them in a demographic that is unusually sexually active. In addition, most have higher than average levels of education. “That often translates into higher levels of sexual activity and adventurousness,” says Ray Noonan, a professor of human sexuality affiliated with the State University of New York, US. Nowak holds a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in aeronautic engineering (see US astronaut Lisa Nowak: a short biography). The issue of sex among astronauts could become especially important on long-duration space missions, such as those planned for Mars. Researchers say it might provide a sense of normalcy in the isolated and confined environment of a space mission, but they also worry that jealousy or resentment could endanger the mission if the relationship went sour (see Out-of-this-world sex could jeopardise missions). When asked her opinion on the matter in 1998, Nowak told Reuters that men and women could refrain from romantic relationships because the excitement of setting foot on Mars would prevail over earthly desires. “We’re all professionals,” she said. The pressure of living up to the squeaky-clean image of an astronaut is also intense. That was particularly difficult in the early days of the space programme, when every astronaut was an instant celebrity. The spotlight harmed more than a few in its glare. Among them was Buzz Aldrin, who suffered through depression, alcoholism and a divorce after becoming the second man to set foot on the Moon. That spotlight has cooled as spaceflight has become more commonplace. Yet the pressure on astronauts to be upstanding role models remains sky-high. “This is a highly motivated group of people, so I don’t think it’s unusual to expect that they would want to conform to the role model image for the most part,” Noonan says. “Then again, when you have extreme situations, some people will crack,