Credit: Bryan Versteeg

A new research paper is flagging the psychological underpinnings of long duration treks to Mars.

Bottom line: If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no escape.

One understudied area of spaceflight teams, the paper explains, involves coordinating communication across a multiteam system (MTS) under conditions of communication delay.

“Relatedly, more scientifically rigorous research and development of training and countermeasures are required to ensure that the remote, highly autonomous spaceflight team is able to maintain teamwork skills throughout a mission lasting 2 to 3 years with reduced support from Mission Control.”

MARS 500 Session training in the IMBP module.
Credit: IBMP RAS

The paper – “Teamwork and Collaboration in Long-Duration Space Missions: Going to Extremes” – has been published in American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.

Critical components

“Teamwork and collaboration are critical components of all space flights and will be even more important for astronauts during long-duration missions, such as to Mars. The astronauts will be months away from home, confined to a vehicle no larger than a mid-sized RV for two to three years and there will be an up to 45-minute lag on communications to and from Earth,” said Lauren Blackwell Landon of KBRwyle/NASA in Houston, Texas, lead author of the paper in a press statement.

Credit: NASA

Kelley J. Slack University of Houston/NASA as well as Jamie D. Barrett of the Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma co-authored the research paper.

Assemble best teams

Currently, psychological research on spaceflight is limited, especially regarding teams, the researchers suggest. Applying best practices in psychology, the authors offered insights into how NASA can assemble the best teams possible to ensure successful long-duration missions.

Other research factoids are highlighted:

 Astronauts who are highly emotionally stable, agreeable, open to new experiences, conscientious, resilient, adaptable and not too introverted or extroverted are more likely to work well with others. A sense of humor will also help to defuse tense situations, according to the authors.

 The long delay in communication to and from Earth will mean that crews will have to be highly autonomous as they will not be able to rely on immediate help from Mission Control. The authors said this will be an ongoing challenge and having defined goals, building trust, developing communication norms and debriefing will help alleviate potential conflict.

 The researchers also advised the use of technology to monitor the physiological health of astronauts to predict points of friction among team members, due to lack of sleep, for example.

To access the paper – “Teamwork and Collaboration in Long-Duration Space Missions: Going to Extremes” – go to:  

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-amp0000260.pdf

 

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