MU psychologist Daniel Orme was asked down to Johnson Space Center to evaluate prospective astronauts four years ago, but he had to decline due to a scheduling conflict.
When NASA called him again last July, he jumped at the opportunity and headed down to Houston in September and then again in November.
During his second trip, Orme looked at his schedule of interviewees and noticed that the hometown of one educator astronaut hopeful looked familiar. They were both from Columbia.
“When I was at NASA and saw that he was on my schedule to evaluate, I was blown away,” Orme said.
Orme asked to excuse himself from possible Educator Astronaut Paul Mahoney’s interview, because they are both from Columbia, but he participated in about 40 evaluations of those aspiring to be pilot/commanders, missions specialists, and educator astronauts.
Orme is a retired Air Force psychologist who evaluated aviators for their fitness to continue flying after suffering head traumas or neurological illnesses. He also studied the interaction between humans and machines to detect the human factor in airplane accidents.
“I was selected to be a psychological consultant because of my experiences while on active-duty service in the USAF,” Orme said. “NASA figures that working in aero medical facilities in the military is similar to their aero medical work.”
Although Orme himself does not make the selections, he gives input to the selection committee, which makes the final decisions.
“I interviewed and assisted in evaluating the suitability and compatibility of the applicants,” Orme said.
Although Orme recognized Mahoney’s hometown, Mahoney had no idea he wasn’t the only Columbian there.
“I didn’t find out about (Orme) until someone mentioned it a few days ago,” Mahoney said.
NASA hunts for astronauts every two years. Those who get the job in the spring will head to Johnson Space Center to start their new professions this summer.