Crew Simulations Expose Weak Spots in NASA Mars Mission

first_imgStay on target I can barely stand a week in the same house with eight of my closest friends. Imagine what traveling 250 million miles and living with relative strangers on an unfamiliar planet could do to your psyche.Northwestern University researchers are doing just that via a predictive model to help NASA anticipate conflicts and communication breakdowns among crew members on the Mission to Mars.A multiphase study, conducted in two analog environments in the US and Russia, focuses on the behavior of astronaut crews on mock missions. That includes isolation, sleep deprivation, specifically designed tasks, and mission control—complete with delayed communication, just like real space travel.The goal, according to Northwestern, is threefold:Establish the effects of isolation and confinement on team functioningIdentify methods to improve team performanceDevelop a predictive model to assemble an ideal team and identify potential issues with already composed teams before and during the mission“Astronauts are super humans. They are people who are incredibly physically fit and extremely smart,” project co-leader Leslie DeChurch, a professor in NU’s School of Communication, said in a statement.Still, the psychological demands of a trip to Mars—during which communication delays with worldwide mission controls will exceed 20 minutes—is greater than anything asked of space explorers before.With that in mind, Northwestern researchers have been collecting data from the Human Experimentation Research Analog (HERA) at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.The capsule simulator houses astronauts for up to 45 days; trainees try to perform tasks while running on little sleep. Meanwhile, a mock mission control augments the experience with sound effects, vibrations, and communication delays.And researchers collect moment-to-moment metrics about individual performance, moods, psychosocial adaptation, and more.Initial data suggests there is plenty of room for improvement.Teams DeChurch and Contractor studied experienced diminished abilities to think creatively and solve problems; participants successfully completed tasks only 20 to 60 percent of the time.“Creative thinking and problem solving are the very things that are really going to matter on a Mars mission,” DeChurch said. “We need the crew to be getting the right answer 100 percent of the time.”The next phase of research began Friday, as the model tries to predict breakdowns and problems a new HERA crew will experience.Researchers are expanding the experiment to the SIRIUS analog at Moscow’s Institute for Bio-Medical Problems. In March, four Russians and two Americans will undertake a 120-day fictional mission around the Moon—including a Moon landing operation.More on Geek.com:NASA’s InSight Lander Deployed Second Instrument on MarsNASA Says Goodbye to Its Mars Opportunity RoverElon Musk ‘Confident’ SpaceX Ticket to Mars Will Cost Less than $500K NASA Captures ‘Red-Handed’ Avalanche on Mars in Mesmerizing PhotoBest Skywatching Events in September 2019 last_img

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