Would you like to become a candidate for Japanese astronaut school at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency?
Then you better know how to fold a tsuru:
To test people, JAXA isolates small groups of astronaut candidates for days at a time and makes them do menial tasks. Mary Roach’s excellent book Packing For Mars talks about one of those tasks: folding 1,000 origami cranes.
In traditional Japanese culture, folding 1,000 paper cranes is supposed to bring good luck; at JAXA, folding cranes tests how crazy you’ll go if you have to fold 1,000 paper cranes.
The genius of the Thousand Cranes test is that it creates a chronological record of each candidate’s work. As they complete their cranes, candidates string them on a single long thread. At the end of the isolation, everyone’s string of cranes will be taken away and analyzed. It’s forensic origami: As the deadline nears and the pressure increases, do the candidate’s creases become sloppy? How do the first ten cranes compare to the last?And it’s not just origami cranes that are analyzed with a fine tooth comb. Every single little detail of an astronaut candidate’s performance is put under the microscope.
I can understand why JAXA does all of this. I mean, if you’re going to spend millions of dollars to send somebody up into space, you should probably make sure that they’re suited for the job.
Another review on Packing for Mars:
During a week-long continuous observation session, candidates have to fold a thousand origami cranes. These cranes are then analyzed by a team of psychologists to see how the person deals with boring, repetitive tasks and time constraints. The psychologists check whether the folds get less precise at the end of the task, and see how they compare with the first ones.
Like a lot of things in Japan, there’s an explanation for why it’s done, but no other countries have anything similar to it, and you’re left wondering if there wouldn’t be a test that’s more closely related to actual space missions.
Hat tip: Andrew Dewar on the Origami-L, as a follow-up to Karen Reeds' post.