Astronaut medical selection during the Shuttle era: 1981-2011

Smith L. Johnston, Rebecca S. Blue, Richard T. Jennings, William J. Tarver, Gary W. Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Introduction: U.S. astronauts undergo extensive job-related screening and medical examinations prior to selection in order to identify candidates optimally suited for careers in spaceflight. Screening medical standards evolved over many years and after extensive spaceflight experience. These standards assess health-related risks for each astronaut candidate, minimizing the potential for medical impact on future mission success. This document discusses the evolution of the Shuttleera medical selection standards and the most common reasons for medical disqualification of applicants. Methods: Data for astronaut candidate finalists were compiled from medical records and NASA archives from the period of 1978 to 2004 and were retrospectively reviewed for medically disqualifying conditions. Results: During Shuttle selection cycles, a total of 372 applicants were disqualified due to 425 medical concerns. The most common disqualifying conditions included visual, cardiovascular, psychiatric, and behavioral disorders. During this time period, three major expert panel reviews resulted in refinements and alterations to selection standards for future cycles. Discussion: Shuttle-era screening, testing, and specialist evaluations evolved through periodic expert reviews, evidence-based medicine, and astronaut medical care experience. The Shuttle medical program contributed to the development and implementation of NASA and international standards, longitudinal data collection, improved medical care, and occupational surveillance models. The lessons learned from the Shuttle program serve as the basis for medical selection for the ISS, exploration-class missions, and for those expected to participate in commercial spaceflight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)823-827
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Crewmembers
  • Medical screening
  • Medical standards
  • Spaceflight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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