Mars Exchange
The Science of Screening Astronauts

The Science of Screening Astronauts

by Vince on Wednesday, 27th May 2015 in Astronaut Selection, Inside 360, People, Norbert Kraft

Mars One received more than 200,000 applicants, and screened them to 1,000-plus in a short time. How was this done? Chief Medical Officer Norbert Kraft, MD, developed the Mars One candidate screening process. He worked for the Japanese space agency, collaborated with the Russian space agency, and worked at NASA before joining Mars One. In this and two subsequent stories, Dr. Kraft describes the process.

First Selection Round

Mars One started with 202,586 applicants in 2013, which is a lot! These 202,586 individuals filled out the online registration, which included a confirmation of their email address, country of residence, and date of birth. Additionally, each and every individual agreed to the legal terms and conditions of the Mars One astronaut application program, thereby officially agreeing to be part of Mars One’s astronaut selection program. The application procedure contained a number of hurdles that applicants had to overcome to show their commitment to the mission to Mars. The first was a payment of a small administration fee. The amount of the fee paid by the applicant was calculated based on the GDP of the country of residence, ranging from 5 USD (for applicants who reside in Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Eritrea, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Somalia, Togo, Tokelau, and Zimbabwe), up to 73 USD (for people who reside in Qatar). These funds were used to pay application management costs and moderation of the applicant website.

After completing the payment, applicants received access to the full application form, which included various steps divided into public and private components. The public component included submitting a profile image, basic personal information, and a video in which they answered various motivational questions. The private component included a questionnaire consisting of open questions, a letter outlining the applicant’s motivation, along with personal information. Everyone had to complete the entire application in order to be reviewed as a candidate to move to the 2nd round. The total number of completed and submitted applications was 4,227. At this point, applicants were provided with the possibility to publish part of their application online. Since many applicants decided to keep their profile private, the number of public profiles did not equal the number of submitted applications.  

Provided that all the steps above were completed, the selection committee reviewed the applications in order to select which applicants would proceed in the selection process. In the video, the applicants answered various questions that addressed why they were applying, what kind of sense of humor they had, and why they would make a good Mars settler candidate. In the questionnaire, open questions were asked about how applicants handle difficult and stressful situations. This helped determine if the applicants seemed to understand what they were applying for and if they were sincere about settling on Mars. After the complete review, Mars One was left with 1,058 applicants from around the world, all vying for a permanent trip to Mars!

Second Selection Round 

The 1,058 candidates then entered Round Two of Mars One’s astronaut selection process. They were required to take a medical exam conducted by their own physician and to send in the medical statement endorsed by their physician. This medical exam was very similar to the exam required by NASA and the European Space Agency. Among other things, the candidates were examined for good eyesight, general health, drug dependency, and range of motion and full function in all joints. One of the benefits of the medical exam was that some people learned they had a medical condition which required treatment. Secondly, the candidates were required to make their candidate profile publicly visible. This condition was implemented to confirm the candidates were willing to be open regarding their commitment to the mission. Additionally, after this phase of the selection process, all selection steps thereafter would be public. Of the 1058 that entered Round Two selection, 660 candidates successfully completed these two steps and were invited for their Round Two candidate interview.

The Round Two candidate interview was a brief, carefully structured online video interview. The interviews were designed to screen out those who are less likely to fulfill our requirements. This interview included open questions and knowledge questions from material that candidates were required to study, including pages from the Mars One website.

The knowledge questions helped determine whether the candidate was a good learner, was able to retrieve and apply their knowledge (essential for Mars settlers), and was serious about the project. The fact that the candidates had to study material also ensured that they really understood some of the dangers and risks involved in a mission to Mars. This involved memorizing numbers, such as how much radiation they will be exposed to, how much shielding is needed, and how much reserve water and oxygen will be in storage when they arrive on Mars.

The open interview questions helped determine the likelihood that they would be good team players – that is, to determine if they were really likely to put the team ahead of themselves. Finally, we asked a question that got people to reveal their real reasons for being part of Mars One. We were looking for people who really are sincere about settling on Mars for humanity.

From the 660 Round Two candidates, 100 Mars hopefuls were selected in February 2015 to move to Round Three.

Story by Vincent Hyman, a writer and Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

Sign up for our Newsletter Close