Human Factors in Mars Research: An Overview

Dr Steve Dawson

Canberra Clinical & Forensic Psychology

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Abstract: This paper reviews some of the human factors considered important for a human mission to Mars and for research leading up to such a venture.

A manned mission to Mars present unique challenges from a technical/engineering perspective but also from a human factors point of view. How will the combination of several months exposure to microgravity followed by the 0.38G Martian gravity impact the crew? How will the harsh Martian environment and increasing delays in communications impact individual crewmembers and their performance? What man-machine systems are uniquely relevant to a manned Mars mission e.g. work saving systems for recording and retrieving data, control of semi-robotic explorers. What habitat design is most suited to crew comfort and productivity? What health issues for the crew are likely to be encountered (e.g. bone health within a closed food system, potential exposure to chemical hazards, exposure to increased radiation)? How should workload be managed, given there will be ‘so much to do with so little time’. How should the right crew be selected and what group dynamic pressures will they encounter?

The Mars Analogue Research Stations in several international sites are already examining some of these questions. Human factors research at the proposed Australian site, MARS-OZ, will seek to build upon previous Mars relevant studies while adding new projects not previously conducted. In addition, several other MSA projects have human factors components worthy of exploration. These include the MarsSkin spacesuit, the Mars Analogue Helmet Systems project, the Tools and Applications for Martian Exploration and Research (TAMER) and the Marsupial Analogue Rover Project.

Several categories of human factors research are proposed for examination of potential problems and design of effective countermeasures in relation to human exploration of Mars.

PROFILE: Steve is a Clinical Psychologist with Canberra Clinical & Forensic Psychology and also with the Neuropsychology Department of The Canberra Hospital. After doing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at University of Wollongong Steve has worked in private practice and also over the last 5 years with the Canberra Hospital and NSW Brain Injury Service. His Ph.D. thesis investigated neuropsychological function in attention deficit disorder. He has broad experience in a range of clinical areas including depression, learning disability and relationship issues. Other clinical/ research interests include aviation & aerospace human factors, particularly neuropsychological issues in pilot performance and crew interaction. It is here his skills and experience are applicable to human factors research for human missions to Mars as well as in the evaluation of Mars Society Australia’s Mars analogue research activities. Leisure interests include flying, reading science fiction and keeping super fit with an annual game of tennis.