ACU students quiz NASA on how to pick an astronaut
Videoconference links class with human resources staff in Houston

Staff Writer,
Abilene Reporter-News
April 27, 2000

"NASA, can you hear me?" sounds like a chilling line from a movie about astronauts lost in space.

But on Wednesday morning, it was a simple question signaling the beginning of a video-conference at Abilene Christian University. Students in Malcolm Coco's "Introduction to Human Resources Management" class took part in the interactive conference with three panelists from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The panelists were human resources representatives whose job is to select astronauts for NASA's space program.

Students learned the field of human resources is pretty much the same whether working for a corporation such as IBM or the more exotic space program.

The differences lie in the work environment and the nature of the business, said panelist Natalie Saiz. En route to work every day, Saiz passes by a Saturn rocket and the reality of her job kicks in.

"Wow, I'm really lucky to be here" is her reaction every day, she said.

A major part of the job for NASA human resources personnel is the astronaut selection process. Duane Ross said his office has 3,000 applications for 20 slots.

There's no challenge finding young men and women, he said. "They find us."

Instead, the challenge is to find applicants with the right stuff for space travel. Chief among the qualities sought is the ability to be a team player, Ross said. By the time the field is narrowed to the final selection, all the applicants have met the basic educational, medical and experience requirements, he said.

Human resources professionals must decide which ones will be able to get along well in a cramped space vehicle for long periods of time.

It all boils down to one basic question. "Would I want to fly with this person?" Ross said.

Human resources personnel at NASA also deal with more down-to-earth problems such as helping employees through stressful family situations.

But by far, the astronaut selection process is the most visible part of the job. That's because the astronauts themselves are highly visible, thanks to an aggressive public relations effort.

Ross said astronauts make about 5,000 public appearances each year. Choosing the right people who will make a favorable impression is critical.

"We like to feel comfortable they're a good representative for us," Ross said.

Contact higher education writer Loretta Fulton at 676-6778 or
Copyright ©2000, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications


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