Outer space is weird, often in ways that are bad. Some of the explorers who return are broken inside*:

Brunette girl snapping celery in half

We want to explore space, and it's obviously most efficient if veterans can be re-deployed, but it's not productive to send explorers who are mentally unhinged. Exploring weird space can break explorers who would otherwise be treated as veterans.

So, folks who return from any kind of exploration assignment are going to receive some kind of psychological screening -- I mean brain test -- before being considered fit for duty.

Given today's best psychology, what would that screening look like?

I am looking for concrete specifics. An answer is worthless if its substance is merely "we'd make sure you can tell reality from fantasy."

It is okay if the answer is in the form of, "we'd run the explorer past these specific psychological batteries: [list of names of specific psych tests]".

In other words: what would the leader of the APA recommend as a formal de-briefing requirement?

Alternatively: assume an actually insane explorer returns to Earth; what reasonable testing would reveal their unfitness?

* I know humans are not celery. We are obviously carrots.

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    $\begingroup$ The test you apply requires some general knowledge of what you expect. For example, hallucinations probably involve particular brain areas and so would involve some kind of real-time MRI imaging. And so on. There are many ways they could come back with psyche issues, and each has its own set of parameters and tests. $\endgroup$
    – BillOnne
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ The way your question is phrased, I think only a professional psychologist or at least someone very interested in the field could give the sort of answer you're looking for. That said, I think in real life the problem is unsolvable. Or at least, current psychology can't answer it. In courtrooms, when someone's sanity is in question, psychology experts regularly disagree about how to define "sane", never mind measure it. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I've replaced the hard-science tag with science-based. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


Any test given would be compared with the results of previous tests before the mission or during training - this would give a picture of changes through time.

A good many tests would be physical, and their performance and attitudes during the physical tests would be telling of much. Notably the Chinese space agency's tests are particularly gruelling physically and in terms of mental endurance, but I'm having trouble digging up the details.

You've not defined what changes have happened, so I'll just give you a few tests to be going on with:

16 factor personality test (Raymond Cattell). (By interview).

  1. Schizothymia (introversion, reduced affect, withdrawal from social contact)/affectothymia (easygoingness) axis.

  2. General mental capacity, abstract thinking, concrete thinking, scholastic performance.

  3. Emotional stability (with stimulus), calmness.

  4. Dominance/submissiveness axis.

  5. Livliness: Spontaneous, expressive, cheerful, happy-go-lucky/serious, introspective, silent, prudent.

  6. Non-conforming/rule bound (super-ego strength).

  7. Threctia/parmia (threat-sensitivity, high/low).

  8. Harria: Utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, tough minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough./Premsia: Sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, tender minded, intuitive, refined.

  9. Alaxia (trusting, unsuspecting)/premsia (suspicious, sceptical).

  10. Praxernia (grounded, steady, practical)/autia (abstract, absent-minded, idea-absorbed).

  11. Artlessness/shrewdness axis.

  12. Untroubled/proneness to guilt.

  13. Conservatism/radicalism.

  14. Group-adherence/self-sufficiency.

  15. Self-concept integration: Low (careless of social rules/norms of behaviour, impulsive, not well controlled)/high (conforming to group ways, controlled).

  16. Ergic tension: Low (placid, relaxed, chilled-out)/ high (impatient, frustrated, tense, overwrought).

Likert scale: (survey of attitudes/preferences). Used regards to social/political attitudes, food preference, attitudes to other crew etc.. (Interview or written questionnaire).

Beck: depression inventory/anxiety inventory.

TAT, inkblot test: (measures feedback from external influences to determine unresolved emotional conflicts).

The good old Glasgow Coma Scale: measures response to stimuli - verbal, eye movement etc..

Direct observation: in a variety of settings.

Things to look for: delusions (false and fixed beliefs), obsessions, hallucinations (various sensory modalities), depression, alertness, concentration, abstract reasoning changes, signs of intoxication (disinhibition, impulse-control issues)..

It may also be worth noting that IQ (general intelligence tests) would also be used in screening for the job in the first place. A re-test which shows a marked difference would be indicative that something is "wrong". This too goes for the hand-eye coordination tests which might indicate neurological (or other) changes.


Insane ≠ incompetent!

Get er done is get er done. If a returning veteran is broken but can still get the job done, OK! No sense in wasting those skills.

The veteran will be deployed on some simulated missions, or low risk missions. Maybe with other similar veterans. It may be that the veteran approaches the mission objective in unorthodox ways. It may be that the veteran is no longer the best company because of the constant murmuring that does not always seem to be coming from the veteran. Maybe the returning veteran has an extra eye she does not always take pains to conceal. Maybe the next mission would be better undertaken solo.

All good! Waste not want not. If the vet can get it done, vet is good to go. Just because you are insane does not mean you are incompetent!

Plus for a fiction the simulated mission will be a lot more fun to write than having the returning vet take some test in a quiet room.

-- I am picturing the returning vet. She has been equipped with a robot buddy that sits on her shoulder. It looks like a parrot. They discuss things. "Parrot," she says. "Is that brown thing real?" "I see that brown thing too, Val," replies the parrot. "I think it is a big brown cat."

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    $\begingroup$ One danger with this approach is that my space-exploring agency will eventually abandon its mission of exploration so it can focus on selling robot parrot familiars to the general population. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom - that danger is one we all face. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ I want a robot parrot familiar! "Parrot, am I imagining things, or is my Congressman an idiot?" "Right you are, JBH! That dude's an idiot!" That would remove so much of the uncertainty of life. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 16:40

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