(CNN) – The astronauts selected for the first human mission to Mars must have more than “the right stuff.” People on this very long mission will need to have an eagerness to do the right thing as well.
Conscientiousness, defined as “wanting to do what is right, especially to do one’s job or duty well and thoroughly,” has emerged as the most important requirement for astronauts who will live and work on Mars’ surface millions of miles from Earth, according to a new study.
This quality was identified as more important than honesty, humility, emotionality, extroversion, openness and pleasantness.
“Conscientiousness, an individual personality trait, can be seen as a collective team resource,” said Julia McMenamin, the study’s first author and doctoral student in psychology at Western University in Canada, in a statement. “The more conscientious a team is, the better they are likely to perform tasks.”
The study was published last week in the journal Astrobiology.
Conversely, traits such as “social loafing” or the habit of a team member putting less effort than when working alone are not desirable in a potential Marstronaut. Traits that have counterproductive and negative behaviors are likely to cause more problems and disruption in a legal environment.
The scientists believe that these characteristics and behaviors are “non-negotiable” for long-term space flight crews.
A careful focus on crew selection, with an emphasis on effective communication and highly detailed work and planning processes, can help avoid negative factors.
Some of the same things identified in the study can also be used to help people cope with isolation during the pandemic.
Simulate a mission to Mars
NASA is currently targeting the first human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Depending on Mars and Earth’s orientation for launch and landing and the duration of the mission on the Martian surface, this crew can spend five years together – excluding training together in advance.
To test how this crew dynamics can be before a real mission, scientists studied a team of five “astronauts” during an exercise analogous to a Mars mission. This event hosted the Austrian Space Forum in Oman 2018. The Dhofar region of Oman is a good analogue for the Martian environment in terms of isolation and extreme conditions.
McMenamin was joined by Natalie Allen, a professor of psychology at Western University, and Ottawa-based space research firm Mission Control Space Services Chief Science Officer Melissa Battler for the study.
AMADEE-18 analog space missions lasted four weeks. Five astronauts, including four men and a woman between the ages of 28 and 38, lived in a simulated Martian environment.
Before, during and after the mission, the astronauts completed questionnaires that addressed the team’s performance and any team conflicts as well as their stress levels.
At the end of the mission, the astronauts rated themselves and each teammate. They also answered questions about their behavior in their respective roles and identified any counterproductive behaviors, including social loafing.
This team worked well together as a team, but the researchers were not surprised because they had prepared for their “mission”. The team was also supported by field and mission control teams.
The team members were also familiar with each other before the mission began. All of these factors can be identified in examples of positive teamwork on earth, the researchers said.
“How familiar team members are with each other has been shown to help teams work better together likely because it gives team members knowledge about each other and helps them communicate better and more effectively,” McMenamin said.
Stress is a common negative factor that can affect team performance on Earth and in space. It is distracting, increases anxiety, causes cooperation difficulties, increases congestion and contributes to destructive emotions.
“Anyone who has worked in a team knows that conflicts between team members can damage team performance and create a negative experience. When people argue about how things are done, or become personal disagreements, there is less time and energy left to complete tasks. In McMenamin.
“What’s interesting is that there are different types of conflicts, and as long as interpersonal issues and arguments about how to avoid tasks, differences of opinion and views can actually improve team performance probably because this allows the team to to benefit from each member’s knowledge and perspective. “
Given that this specific analog mission only lasted for about a month, researchers are interested in knowing how things can play out over a long mission.
“Major issues caused by mental distress and interpersonal problems do not tend to emerge until months or even years spent in an isolated, confined and extreme environment, highlighting the need for longer simulations,” McMenamin said.
Teamwork makes the dream come true
Being a good team player has almost always been part of the astronaut’s game book and has gone back to the Apollo missions.
Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino spoke to CNN in September about the Netflix series “Gone,” which focuses on an international crew leading the first human mission to Mars. Massimino acted as a consultant for the show.
The show crew was most interested in hearing about the human side of being an astronaut, Massimino said. For example, they asked him about the emotional aspects of leaving your family on earth, the camaraderie between the crew and “how it is in your heart and soul, rather than the process,” he said.
Massimino, who flew on several missions during the Shuttle era, told them that “the earth looks like heaven. It makes you realize that we are so happy to be here.”
When it comes to teamwork aspect of spaceflight, “we really love each other as astronauts,” Massimino said. “It’s like a hybrid between a family member and a friend. You really care about each other. And we were seven on the Shuttle crew. We became like a family with all these experiences in training and spaceflight. They” are extraordinary and there are nothing I would do for these people. “
Massimino was elected an astronaut in 1996. When asked about the characteristics that would be important for astronauts who went to Mars, he said he felt that the selection process would be similar to the way NASA chooses astronaut candidates now for long-term spaceflight the International Space Station.
“We are looking for people who would be good candidates for long-term space flight who agree, personalities who let things roll. If things go wrong, you make mistakes because you are not perfect, you have to be able to roll with it. They should be able to contribute and be a good positive crew member, not just for their crew members, but the people who help them get back on earth. “
One of the most important aspects that helps the crew’s morale and performance is a connection to Earth and the people they care about on it – something that becomes increasingly difficult when a spacecraft leaves Earth for Mars and causes delays in communication.
People tend to think of astronauts as superheroes, Massimino said.
“But we’re really just ordinary people who care about each other and have really great jobs.”
This story was first published on CNN.com Astronauts on Mars mission will need to be “conscientious” to work well together