Tuesday, February 06, 2007


This story makes me glad I don't do psychological consulting for NASA anymore. Read it alll for the sordid details. One blogger calls it the "really wrong stuff"; another has the headline: "Psycho-Obsessive Astronaut Drive Cross-Country in Diapers to Confront Romantic Rival."

The latter headline aptly summarizes the plot of this B-grade thriller. I actually heard about it through the grapevine the other day, and it reinforces everything I have always thought about astronauts and the NASA organization--specifically, that in spite of all the cheerful NASA publicity, the astronauts are only human beings after all.

Do you imagine that because they are astronauts, they are somehow immune to heated emotions, poor judgement, and stupid behavior?

NASA goes to a great deal of trouble to convince the American public that the astronauts--each and every one of them--are superior people; and many actually do have a history of superior accomplishment. But the notion that they possess some elusive "right stuff" that makes them special simply by virtue of being selected as astronauts--or even by flying in space, ignores the reality of the human experience.

I'm sure it is shocking to find out that they have unhappy marriages; engage in affairs; have problems with their kids; act out in all sorts of inappropriate ways. Why, they even get depressed at times. Of course, you don't hear about this side of things too much. Nor should astronauts private lives be the subject of Hollywood gossip columns.

Nevertheless, if you treat astronauts like Hollywood superstars; promote them to the public as if they were God's gift to humanity; cater to their narcissistic fantasies; and indulge them in all sorts of special ways, it is not too hard to predict that they will behave just like any other entitled superstar (or politician) whose ridiculous exploits the public follows with obsessive interest.

Why bother to go to the trouble of choosing "the right stuff" in the first place when the superstar culture of the astronauts only encourages the worst sort of narcissism and sociopathy? Even if an astronaut didn't have an iota of such psychopathology before they their selection as an astronaut, they are at extremely high risk in the toxic NASA culture of developing it. (see here for a discussion of "acquired narcissism").

The NASA celebrity culture--like the Washington political culture and the west-coast Hollywood culture--creates these monsters by the uncritical adoration and reverence they give to anyone with a certain job description. Is it shocking therefore that astronauts, politicians, and moviestars behave like the demigods they have been convinced they are? NASA has just had a wake-up call. The powers that be at NASA have always known that astronauts are only human, but over the years they have managed to keep all the bad behavior out of the spotlight and pretend that there is only the good.

Somehow, I don't think they'll be able to pull that off this time around. Their carefully constructed public image of astronauts has come crashing to earth; and NASA has left the Twilght Zone and entered the real world.

Can't you just sense a Hollywood movie coming on...starring Brad, Angelina and Jennifer?

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