A study determined that sweating up his spacesuit as he struggled to fix the ailing Hubble Space Telescope. A stripped bolt was stopping him from removing a handrail to get at a crucial piece of hardware, and his nerves were fraying.

Massimino fumbled at the bolt repeatedly through thick gloves, but without luck. It seemed that one dumb piece of metal might stymie NASA’s billion-dollar rescue mission, but that’s not how things turned out. He finally managed to pry open the telescope and complete his job before clambering back inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis.


Massimino was guided by experts on the ground, as astronauts always are. But his steely resolve in the face of long odds and his methodical approach to solving a difficult problem while floating weightless in the vacuum of space was honed by the brutal regimen of survival training he had endured more than a decade earlier.

In the early days, the agency plucked astronauts from a pool of test pilots who had already completed the military version of survival training. 


The scariest part was nighttime a cacophony of sounds, animals crawling underneath me. Now NASA astronaut candidates must complete two years of intensive preparation, including land and water survival exercises. The training begins before the candidates learn mission-specific skills even before they are accepted into the corps.

Though NASA’s survival training regimen has changed over the years, the goal remains the same. It’s not really about teaching astronauts specific skills to use in the face of life-or-death danger. NASA has underwater spacewalk exercises, flight simulators, and T-38 training jets to impart those kinds of lessons.


They seemed far removed from the kinds of tasks that he would be doing in space.  In space, as in extreme environments on Earth, self-awareness and adaptability can spell the difference between success and failure and ultimately, between life and death.

Astronauts need intimate knowledge of their strengths and limitations, as well as those of their crewmates. They must be able to put aside bad moods, personal feuds and mental distractions of any kind. That’s where the true survival element of NASA’s training kicks in.

Space Training

Every astronaut has a version of that breakthrough moment for survival training. With the tree bearing down, other members of his team called out to him from the bank, urging him to slow his movements. Melvin trusted their advice over his instincts.

That ability to communicate quickly and effectively in the midst of any distraction and to trust feedback even if it seems counterintuitive helped Melvin on his later space missions.   If that sounds more like a motivational speaker than a space daredevil imbued with the Right Stuff, so be it. It’s precisely the kind of resolute, can-do camaraderie that astronauts like Massimino take from survival training.