Orbiting 350 kilometres above the Earth in the International Space Station (ISS), Chris Hadfield experienced what many can only dream about. Living and working in space. You may have heard of this Canadian astronaut and former ISS Commander from his viral cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity back in 2013. Now, Hadfield is back in the public eye and turning his attention to… reality television?
The premise may sound strange, but in practice it works rather well. Chris Hadfield, along with Director of the Centre for Space Medicine Dr Iya Whiteley and trauma doctor Dr Kevin Fong, assesses twelve candidates against the same criteria used for real astronauts. The winner gets an official recommendation from Hadfield himself when the European Space Agency next begins recruiting.
Most candidates have at least a Master’s degree in a scientific field. Some speak multiple languages, some are experienced mountaineers or pilots, and others are teachers or professors. Merritt, for example, balances working on her PhD in quantum physics with dancing ballet professionally. Straight from the beginning, this show emphasises that it will be taken seriously, and it is extremely successful in this.
Over the course of an episode, the audience gains immense insight into both the skills required to be considered for a job as an astronaut and the tests that true astronauts undergo. These tests can be anything from learning to fly a helicopter in fifteen minutes, to being placed in a human centrifuge, to computer simulations, to giving presentations. Hadfield and his team pull out all the stops and throw the candidates in at the deep end in all situations.
This scientific testing is what sets this competition based show apart from others. The show expects a base level of scientific knowledge from its audience, but anything above that is explained clearly. Overall, a good job is done in bringing across what the candidates are doing, as well as how and why. Everything is placed in the context of getting to space; even simple exercises like remembering a string of numbers has a purpose and is engaging to watch.
It is also extremely interesting to watch how different people react to the same situation, but this is where the show loses some key strengths. While psychological tests and analysis of micro-expressions are important for astronauts, this show does falter occasionally with presenting this to the audience. Hadfield does a good job of stressing the importance of the expert panel interview. Nevertheless, half an episode is spent on what is honestly rather boring television.
All in all, Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes is one of the better reality shows on television right now. Combining science, space, and a healthy dose of competitiveness, Chris Hadfield and the BBC have created a show that both educates and entertains,
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