We must always remember the lasting effects that space has on an Astronaut and their loved ones. But for those Astronauts who wish to reintegrate and contribute to society we must also think about how space has affected their lives and how we can support them back into work. After being out of sight and out of mind for weeks or months at a time, Astronauts who return to Earth can feel thrust into the spotlight with no direction. It can be difficult for them to assimilate back into a normal life, with a normal routine.
Reentry – The Application
The challenges of an Astronaut finding work once they return to Earth begin with the application forms that most employers use. Candidates with a history of being in space are often disregarded because employers fear that if they hire an Astronaut they will leave once another space program opportunity comes along. After spending time in the cosmos people get used to how things behave in space and can sometimes forget about the effects of gravity on Earth. Astronauts will regularly drop pens, cups, books, children, and other things because they are used to not having to hold things in zero gravity. They wonder why their food isn’t floating through the air. They wonder why THEY aren’t floating through the air. They get worried that every time someone opens a window the vacuum of space will kill everyone inside. Astronauts will often continue to tether themselves to fixed objects out of fear of drifting away into the infinite abyss of space. This can last for weeks, or even months after their return to Earth.
They understandably have some difficulty getting hired for non-Astronaut jobs when they return to Earth. Recently some former Astronauts rallied together for the Space Fairer campaign. The campaign asks employers to create a “fair opportunity” for people with Astronaut experience to compete for jobs by removing the “are you or have you ever been an Astronaut” tick box from job application forms. The Space Fairer campaign also prevents employers from asking loaded questions such as “have you ever been to outer space” and “how many planets have you visited” later in the recruitment process. This ensures that Astronauts are given a fair chance at employment without being eclipsed by their previous work history, and smoothly reenter a workplace atmosphere without burning up.
Questions around the fair recruitment of people with a history of being an Astronaut continue to remain a source of debate. With the rise of technology in recruitment, how do former Astronauts apply for jobs when an automated filtering function could instantly ‘weed’ out those with an Astronaut past? We must be mindful of passing on human bias to our robot helpers.
Lift-off – Recruitment
The Blind Recruitment Committee was designed to promote fair recruitment including clarity over how employers could remove bias from the application process. This means ‘blinding’ recruiters to identifying details on job applications, for example their name, place of birth, or number of space shuttles flown. This helps an Astronaut get further along in the hiring process as obvious signs that the candidate may have been an Astronaut such as a picture of them in a space suit are hidden from the view of the recruiter. This type of recruitment allows former Astronauts to have a fair shot at the application process – without any negative association hindering them.
Data Transmission – The Interview
At the interview stage it is important that candidates know their rights when it comes to disclosing past outer space experiences. The current law states that applicants do not need to disclose previous outer space experience and employers are prohibited by law from turning people with outer space experience down for this reason. Employers have a responsibility to handle sensitive space-related information, such as how Astronauts poop in space, with great care and they must be prepared to make a fair judgment based upon their experience of the candidate, rather than any past actions. As a precautionary measure, Astronauts are trained to relieve themselves every two hours.
Exploration – Decision Time
When deciding upon a candidate, I urge employers not to immediately judge a book by its cover and instead consider what the company is looking for and the responsibilities of the role. After this, employers can then carefully decide whether a candidate’s previous time spent in outer space will actually affect their ability to perform the job.
Employers should be encouraged to recognize alternative work histories. There are many instances where applicants may have a ‘gap’ in their CV, whether it be through illness or a mission to Mars gone wrong resulting in being lost in space for many months. More education is needed to help employers and recruiters look past these gaps. Not all CV’s neatly fit into our ideals of a ‘normal’ career path of education followed by a first job and then steady progression. People outside of these standards can demonstrate transferable skills in other ways, such as moon walking, jet pack experience, or being a good orbiter.
Splashdown – Soft Landing
Responsibilities for employers do not simply end when a candidate with an Astronaut past is hired. It is important to continue supporting them as they make the transition into work and throughout their employment. By providing a mentor and clear access to external support networks, employers can ensure they give their most vulnerable employees the support they need.
Last month we celebrated Astronaut Week, which aims to raise awareness for the needs of those affected by time spent in outer space, from the Astronauts and their families, as well as those working in the space program system. It is an opportunity for us to reassess how we think and act towards those with past experience in outer space who want to make good of their life. If Astronauts are keen to work and wish to play their part in helping our economy thrive, they should be encouraged and allowed to do so without barriers.