The New Right Stuff- when NASA astronauts are chosen to fly a space shuttle mission, NASA calls NOLS Darran Wells and Andy Cline (shown in picture with the crew of the shuttle Columbia). Andy and Darran put the fledgling team through simulated stress in the mountains of Wyoming so they can work out their team work kinks before space flight.
"The conditions are tough, but the intention is not to weed out anyone. Instead, the idea is to model the human aspects of space flight the way flight simulators replicate the technical ones.
"You train people to thrive in adverse conditions by putting them into adverse conditions to prepare them," says astronaut John Grunsfeld. "It's a good analogue for space flight, where the environment provides leadership opportunities and life-or-death consequences."
Flying any spacecraft is a group effort; it requires the crew to feed one another the right information at the right time. "If they didn't have this time," says Jon Kanengieter, director of NOLS professional training, "they'd be going through all that up on the shuttle."
Team development is only a few weeks out of several years of training, but there is no doubt that NASA takes it very seriously. "You can dial up the stress a little bit, and maybe different personality traits come out that you have to work on," says Kent Rominger, chief of the astronaut office. "It sends the message from NASA that teamwork is so important we're sending you somewhere for two weeks to work on it."
Psychologically, the most accurate simulation of a space mission is probably a voyage in NEEMO, which requires crew members to work on a cramped craft in an alien environment - in this case 60 feet under. "It gives you a sense of the physical and psychological stress of space," says Bill Todd, who runs the NEEMO project.
Once the boosters ignite, human dynamics and the ability to cope with pressure are as important as individual competence.
"You could be the best pilot, scientist, or astronaut in the world," says astronaut Ron Garan, "but if you can't work as part of a team or live with people for six months, you're no good to NASA." - Fortune