Landon, Slack and Barrett, writing in a recent special teamwork edition of American Psychologist (May 2018), describe in their article the special challenges of a future mission to Mars. As in other environments there is an increasing emphasis on the need for teamwork among astronauts. This is partly due to an increase in the length of missions, but also the need for greater autonomy on the part of the crew. A mission to the moon might not last longer than current missions to the International Space Station (ISS); a mission to Mars would take years rather than months. Communication delay (up to 45 minutes) will make anything like a normal conversation impossible.
Leaving these aspects aside it is interesting to note that the authors find assessments and effectiveness of training to be valid across various analog environments, which involve stress factors such as confined space, isolation for a long period or communication delay. This robustness of psychological research is also confirmed by experienced astronauts who rated teamwork and competencies enhancing team functioning as “highly important”. “Regardless of whether an astronaut spends 3 months on the ISS or up to 3 years on a Mars mission, it is clear that teamwork is essential to mission success.”
As with spin-off technologies, we may expect the fruits of NASA’s psychological research and training will have more general application in areas such as:
- Team-oriented selection and composition
- Debriefing – learning from doing
- Team autonomy
- Measurement and Monitoring teamwork