Contest: Ask Astronaut Rex Walheim a Question

On Friday morning, I'll get 10 minutes to talk to astronaut Rex Walheim about the astronaut recruiting process—how candidates are chosen, who should apply, what happens to you at different levels of the process ... all that good stuff.

Ten minutes ain't much. I'm normally tearing through an interview if I can get it done in 20 minutes. I'll probably have time to get through two questions with Walheim before he's on to the next reporter. So I wanted to do something fun. I'm going to ask him your questions. What do you want to know about how astronauts are recruited and chosen? Now's your chance to find out.

Here's how this will work: You've got until Thursday at 2:00 Central to submit your questions in the comment section of this post. Thursday night, I'll pick the two best questions—via wholly subjective methods. Those will be the ones I take to Walheim, and I'll post his answers here on BoingBoing.

Chances are, there will be lots of good questions and I'll have a hard time choosing. Luckily, I've got a stockpile of awesome BoingBoing stickers and Jackhammer Jill pins. So the two winners, and four runners-up, will all receive a sticker and a pin.

Sound good?


  1. How do you deal with having an itch when you are fully suited up for EVA and you can’t do anything about it?  I think it would drive me mad.

  2. You know, Maggie, it occurs to me that any job that occasionally requires you to do things like, I dunno, “talk to astronauts” is kind of a cool one.

  3. A sticker and a pin?  Dammit, when I saw the headline and the picture, I thought the prize was the Space Suit!

    My question for Rex Walheim: Can I have a Space Suit?

    Seriously, I want that Space Suit, but not for a frivolous reason: I want to establish myself as a Space Disco DJ, under the moniker the Ancient Astronaut! I’m sure Rex will understand.

  4. At any point in the training process, is any information given on what to do if, for example, while in a low- or zero-pressure environment, the space vehicle or the space suit should suffer a leak? A pin-hole sized leak, I would imagine, might be able to be patched in some way if it is able to be located, but what about a leak that is significantly larger? My understanding is studies were done on small animals in the late 60’s, but what, practically, may be done for humans? This is an issue that has bothered me for a long time….

  5. Diving Masks are bad enough, so tell me, how do you keep your pie hole from fogging up the windshield? Please don’t say “spit”. You have got to have some kind of decent air conditioning in that suit, for it to weigh almost 200 pounds.

  6. In light of the shift from government to private space vehicles, what one thing should the private space jockeys learn from NASA-trained astronauts that will ensure their success/save their bacon?

  7. ‘The recruitment process favours types with military backgrounds for the crew, and science/engineering backgrounds for payload specialists. Humanties, Art and Design types are conspicuously absent (for very obvious reasons) Still… does it ever feel like a particularly closed circle – or, even worse, like an academic faculty meeting in space?’

  8. When you’re going through the selection process, hoping beyond hope to be chosen to train as an astronaut, would you admit to being afraid of anything, or would than seem not very astronaut-like? Is there a place in the training for people to admit to having fear?

  9. This sounds totally crass and juvenile but ever since reading an interview Bruce Sterling did with someone on the ISS I’ve been wondering:

    How does farting work in space?

    Think about it… they are always confined in a small area with a closed atmosphere. If they fart in the spaceship everyone is going to smell it. I imagine anyone who mysteriously smells methane is going to become concerned that it indicates a problem with the air system, which is a pretty big deal. It’s not like you can just politely pretend you don’t notice the stench and carry on working!
    The only time an astronaut can fart without anyone else smelling it is when they are in their spacesuit, but even there it seems like it could cause trouble. Don’t they have sensors to monitor the mix of gases released by their breathing system? Don’t they always have an open mic with mission control listening in? And what happens if the smell lingers, won’t the other astronauts smell it when they take the space suit off? They’re going to think you pooped yourself if they do!

    I know it’s kind of an embarrassing and uncomfortable topic, but how farting is dealt with is a serious question and if given a serious answer will illuminate the social and technical adaptations necessary for space travel. Also, it’ll make everyone giggle and pay attention. Questions like that are awesome.

  10. Okay, I am, like a crazy person, ACTUALLY applying for this astronaut selection and do I have questions.  For the love of space flight, what kinds of things move you from the Qualified applicant pool to the Highly Qualified applicant pool? And are there any keywords that boot your resume right out of the Qualified pool? Do I need to invest in Rosetta Stone: Russian?

    I know, that seems like an incredibly lame question, but seriously, I need nuts and bolts answers here. :)

      1. Here’s hopin’. My chances are infinitesimal, but at bare minimum my education and experience falls within the “qualified applicant” criteria. The worst they can do is tell me “no,” right?

        Unless somebody proposes failed astronaut applicants as a new rocket fuel…

  11. Has your perspective on geo-politics changed due to the “overview effect”? If so, would you advocate laws mandating an orbital spaceflight for our top government officials (President, Speaker of the house, etc)

    1. Mandatory spaceflight for top govt. leaders is an awesome idea! I suspect we do not live in a free enough country for an astronaut to express his honest opinion on the subject.

  12. Here’s my question:
    NASA has made a point to encourage children to study science because someday they might be an astronaut. Based on the folks that have gone before, what skills NASA needs out of a scientist astronaut have varied. However, it seems more common for mission specialists to have been engineers or medical doctors, rather than bench scientists (with the exception of perhaps geologists and chemists). This seems to be a slight disconnect to NASA’s message to children. What do you think is the real ‘range’ of scientific pursuits an applicant can pursue that will give them a chance at getting in?

  13. What event or fear of an event would it take to get humans to finally build an outpost on Mars?

    I ask this because we had the cold war that got us into space and the moon. As much as anything it was fear and the desire for military superiority that paid for the program,  ” We must control the high ground before the Soviets!”

    That fear won’t work anymore (or will it?) But what kind of threat, crisis or mystery could be big enough for a nation or nations to devote their resources to a manned mission and outpost on Mars?

    I wondered if spotting clearly alien structures on Mars would do the trick. Would some sort of serious extinction level event or planetary threat  do the trick? Something that makes us worry about putting all of humanities eggs in one basket?

    The way things are looking now we keep kicking the can down the road for manned missions to Mars  because of cost. Unless there is something that can justify the cost for a nation (or humanity in general) I don’t see it happening.

  14. This is a purely self-interested question, since I’m one of those people who still wants to go to space and experience spacewalking firsthand, but what was the feeling of being in space for the first time?

  15. What is your belief in life outside of this universe on other planets, and will we ever be contacted (or contact) those other civilizations?

    1. Seriously, though, are there physical requirements, like maximum or minimum height?  Do you have to be in perfect physical health, including eyesight and hearing?

  16. Being in space must be a profound experience not only psychologically but spiritually. If that is the case, why do we hear little if anything from returning astronauts about how the experience has affected them? 

    1. I’d be interested to hear what he thinks about Apollo astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and Edgar Mitchell going on record talking about UFOs etc. These aren’t the usual stripe of fruitcake saying this stuff, these are dudes who literally walked on the moon. What’s the attitude among the current crop of astronauts to these guys. Crazy old men, or is there something to it?

      Le linkage:
      Buzz Aldrin talks about something weird orbiting Mars –

      Info on Mitchell –

      For bonus points this is Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper talking about stuff he’s seen:

  17. One thing I never managed to learn: what kind of background noise is there in a Soyuz/Shuttle/ISS/EVA suit? And what about smells? (I read that equipment coming back from EVAs smell “like barbecue”, but this sounds quite unlikely…)

  18. As tourism space travel takes off, pardon the pun, what do you think will be the long term benefits and, besides disasters, what do you think the consequences will be?

  19. Tell us about the least astronaut-like astronaut you know.

    (edit: Note that the topic is recruitment.)

  20. Over the years you’ve answered SO many questions about NASA and being an astronaut… What’s the one question the reporters always miss, the one-thing you would like to share you haven’t shared before?

  21. Ask him what’s involved in the psychological training of astronauts. How they train recruits to deal with the harsh and, at times, frightening realities of living and traveling in space. If they ask what you mean give these examples: sleep, radiation from the solar wind, weightlessness, and the dangers of working outside of the shuttle (repairs et cetera).

  22. Here’s my question:
    Given that I’ve heard stories like blueish algae-based hamburgers having freaked astronauts out too much to eat (necessitating that food was ferried up to the astronauts in the ISS), what training do modern astronauts undergo in order to get them used to eating unusual foods?

    Basically, how do they get used to blue hamburgers? I’m thinking some kind of hilarious aversion therapy :P

  23. We all loved the Apollo 13 story about creating a C02 detox filter using duct tape and notebook binders. In your training do they ever run “MacGyver drills” where you need to fix things with improvised parts?

    Are there “manual methods” you need to learn for when computers go down or equipment malfunctions?

  24. Is retirement/unemployment as an astronaut difficult in that, life can be mundane after having experienced something so few experience.  I imagine a kind of PTSD, afterall the “rush” of going to space must be addicting, difficult to replicate on earth, and lives only in rare sensory flash-backs?

  25. We’ve all seen by now the movie “The Right Stuff” with all the rigorous physical tests the early astronauts had to persevere. How much does physical endurance/ superiority factor in these days when choosing who gets to go? Another words,  ” I’m smart as all hell, but I get nose bleeds when I ride a swing. Can I still go into outer space? ” or “I’m smart as all hell, but one of my thighs won’t even fit into that! (pointing at space suit)” or just plainly, “Brainy weaklings need not apply?”.

  26. I am truthfully very interested in the age range they take seriously for astronaut candidates. I am currently a Mechanical Engineer for the Department of Defense but I feel like they wouldn’t consider me being that I am only 25.

  27. What reason for candidates getting the axe surprised you the most (or was the most surprisingly frequent)?

  28. What can we average folk do (within Earth’s atmosphere and outside NASA training centers) that most closely simulates the various sensations of spaceflight?

    I imagine that despite the training, there’s nothing else like it. But surely there’s something on the ground that can give us a little taste. Skydiving? Commercial “vomit comets”? Space camp?

    I mean, most of us have experience with g-forces, including brief moments of zero-g/freefall on roller coasters. But what I’m really wondering is if there’s something here on the ground that we regularly experience that reminds you, an astronaut, of spaceflight. Not necessarily just the physical sensations, but perhaps mental state of mind and so on as well.

  29. Rex Walheim, it should be noted that though blast off secures your super-cool status, we’re inquiring at which fighter wing of future thrust masters is most organized at ASBC (air and space basic course).  It is, hats in the ring, punkin dogs, sundowners, or the thunderbirds?

    Rex Walheim, it should be noted that this group of intellectuals is unable to contrive any reason for more experiments in outerspace or another weightless environment.  You should help us out with that.

  30. Films like “The Right Stuff” show a highly fictionalized glimpse into the Astronaut recruitment/selection process – originally it seemed to fall mostly to pilots, and people associated with in-atmosphere flight. Considering how human activity in space these days is less about flight and more about science – how has the selection/recruitment process changed since you passed through it? What changes are most noticeable?

  31. When planning for a career as an astronaut, would it be better to concentrate on the field of physics, for example what is the best solution for radiation shielding in deep space, or biology, for instance how does radiation affect the human body and what are the best emergency treatments?

Comments are closed.