NASA plans to send the first humans to Mars sometime in the next quarter-century.
Such a mission will push the boundaries of teamwork for the handful of astronauts selected,
so scientists are developing devices aimed at monitoring astronauts to learn how cooperation fluctuates over the course of a mission.
Scientists aim to equip manned crews to Mars with innovative devices
that keep track of social interactions and provide instant feedback when conflict and other troubles regarding teamwork emerge.
To help maintain teamwork during a mission to Mars, scientists are developing devices aimed at monitoring astronauts in real time to learn how and why
cooperation fluctuates over the course of a mission.
"The intended purpose of the technology and analytics we are developing is to help the team be more aware and attuned so team members can effectively
regulate their teamwork," said Steve Kozlowski, lead investigator on the project and an organizational psychologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
"Good teamwork will be essential to the success of long-duration space missions.
We are developing tools so the team can manage their interactions well, identify potential problems, and resolve them before they become problematic."
Astronauts exploring Mars will need to reduce conflict and encourage teamwork. Image Credit: HI-SEAS/Sian
Kozlowski and his colleagues have for years investigated how scientific teams get along when serving for long periods in isolated, confined and extreme
conditions similar to what astronauts encounter. For example, in Antarctica, they ask team members to write diaries for five to 10 minutes every day
for anywhere from six weeks to nine months, documenting events that spur teamwork or conflict.
"For example, in one study, negative spikes in team cohesion were associated with a couple of team members not wanting to share the workload; positive spikes were
associated with celebration," Kozlowski said.
"It's not rocket science, but it shows how small, even trivial things can influence the ability of a team to be effective. Mere rudeness can inhibit performance."
Ideally, however, Kozlowski and his collaborators would like automated ways to see how teams are doing in real-time.
"One of the key limitations of social science is its heavy reliance on self-reported questionnaires where people
retrospect and report on what they perceived or felt about a target person or event," Kozlowski said.
This method is obtrusive, relies on memory, which can be fallible, and is vulnerable to what questions are asked and how those questions are asked, he explained.
The researchers are now developing badge-like devices for astronauts that researchers aim to shrink down to the size of a smartphone. The badges would
unobtrusively measure a number of factors about the astronauts,
such as heart rate, body motion, what they say and how they say it, their proximity to other crew members and the amount of face time between crew members.
Astronauts exploring an alien world will depend on each other for their safety and comfort. Image Credit: HI-SEAS/Sian
"These new technologies will revolutionize the very nature of social science, how it is conducted, and what insights it can offer with respect to human interaction,"
For instance, the devices could tell if a team member gets loud or turns away from a conversation suddenly, activity that, when done repeatedly, could signal a
problem. Once the badges help identify a concern, they would then wirelessly relay that data to, for example, the crew member, the crew leader, or the entire team.
"The intent is to make the technology part of good teamwork, not to create a 'Big Brother' that is watching from the outside," Kozlowski said.
Scientists have worked on developing these devices for three years now. NASA recently awarded the project $1.2 million for another three years. This brings total
funding from the space agency for the project to $2.5 million.
After a months-long voyage on a cramped spaceship, astronauts will land on Mars and face a hostile environment.
Maintaining teamwork will be essential for their survival. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
A rudimentary version of these badges can now run for a few hours and has proved effective at accurately and consistently collecting data in a lab setting.
The researchers now want to make sure its packaging and power system are robust enough for use in simulations of space missions.
MDRS habitat in Utah, a training facility for long-duration space exploration missions. Image Credit: HI-SEAS/Sian
"One such analog, HERA, is housed at the Johnson Space Center — it is a habitat that simulates a capsule for flight or remote work on Mars. One- to two-week
simulations are planned and we intend to evaluate the badges in that setting," Kozlowski said. "Another habitat is called HI-SEAS that runs simulated Mars
exploration missions. We intend to evaluate in that setting as well. Ultimately, we may be able to do some evaluation in the Antarctic, but that is farther off."
These badges could help advance science outside of space research.
"Organizations may be interested in how knowledge is shared, how innovation emerges; the badges could help illuminate that process," Kozlowski said.
"They could also be used for more mundane but no less important tasks like monitoring the elderly at home — how's grandma doing?"
Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations -
Their Technology And Capabilities
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, "Arthur C. Clarke once wrote a long time ago.
In this Xenology article we take a look at who could be out there and what kind of advanced technology they could posses.
"Soon, humanity may face an existential shock as the current list of a dozen Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets swells to hundreds of earth-sized planets,
almost identical twins of our celestial homeland.
Unusual Organisms Living On Pandora -
A Fictional Alien World That Could Be Real
What kind of unusual organisms could exists on a world like Pandora? What could we expect to find there?
As we are about to find out the line between science fiction and science fact is thin indeed.
Pandora is the idyllic blue world featured in the movie Avatar. Its location is a real place,
Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun and the most likely destination for our first journey beyond the solar system.
Alien Message Can Be Hidden In Your DNA
Do We All Carry A Cosmic Greeting Card?
While SETI is busy searching for signals from alien civilizations, there are scientists who think we can find proof of advanced extraterrestrial life much closer to home - namely in our DNA!
Instead of leaving artefacts for humans to find once they are sufficiently evolved, an advanced extraterrestrial civilizations might instead incorporate information into the
human genome, allowing it to be copied and maintained over immense periods of time.