Psychological Problems of Martian Crew Autonomous BehaviourText

Vadim I. Gushin


State Research Center – Institute for Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia


--- Abstract - Profile ---

Abstract: One of the principal differences between orbital flights and Mars Mission (MM) is the autonomous character of the flight to the Red planet. By this we mean, first of all, no opportunities of direct help to the crew from Earth. It will not be possible to evacuate crew in case of emergency or illness, to re-supply Mission resources (water, oxygen, food, equipment) as we did during previous stage of space exploration. The crew has to rely completely on its own onboard resources, make decisions under difficult situations by itself. We suppose that the autonomous character of Mars mission together with known peculiarities of space crew behaviour could make data exchange in “spaceship-Earth” contour very complicated.


In our previous studies during extended space flights and their ground simulations (EXEMSI-92,HUBES-94, ECOPSY-95, SFINCSS-99) we discovered 2 phenomena, typical for communication dynamics of isolated crews: 'psychological closing and information filtration'. By 'psychological closing and information filtration' we mean decrease of nominal, formal communication scope with external parties in the course of isolation; limitations in the themes discussed; establishment of stable preferences in choosing external communication partners together with simultaneous increase in informal communication. We assume that development of 'psychological closing and information filtration' during MM could significantly decrease the scope of information, coming to Mission Control (MC). Consequently, this could prevent MC from adequate decision making and in-time responding to the Mission needs. We also observed “autonomisation” phenomenon: strengthening of the tendency to rely on their own sets and beliefs in operational issues, increasing egocentrism, increasing criticism of MC, self-justifications and high sensitivity to the content of the messages from 'Earth'. This phenomenon expresses group consolidation, the appearance of the internal crew culture with its own goals, beliefs and values. We regard it as positive and even absolutely necessary for the effective functioning of MM crew which has to make important decisions by itself, using its own experience and knowledge of the situation. But the development of crew 'autonomisation' together with the increasing lack of social control could cause confrontation with MC, attempts to impose their opinion on the MC personnel up to refusals to execute some MC demands.


Another socio-psychological problem of the autonomous crew behavior could be distribution of the limited resources (water, oxygen, food, etc). During orbital flights astronauts also feel this limitation, but still can get some additional supplies from Earth – so they never deal with real food or water shortage. Manned Martian expedition put strict control of all the resources’ expenditures throughout the Mission. We regard this limitation as a potential background of conflict tension in the crew. Possible heterogeneous Martian crew composition could also be regarded as a potential psychological hazard. SFINCSS-99 simulation study lessons learned testify that differences in culture, gender, experience and occupation increase the probability of the appearance of cliques inside the crew. Therefore elaboration of an effective system of cross-cultural psychological training is absolutely necessary for the success of the Mission.

PROFILE: Dr Vadim Gushin has over I8 years of varied experience in aviation and space psychology.  He is familiar with methods of psychological selection, control and support of Russian astronauts, and has participated in the work of the group of psychological support and control of Russian space flights.  He has designed several original computerised methods for psychological control of human operator in extreme environments: Joy-test - multifunctional test for monitoring of cognitive functions (attention, memory, intellect); PSPA - test for the analysis of personal and intragroup attitudes (interactions) in a small group. Vadim took part as a Principal Investigator-psychologist in scientific experiments, simulating space flight conditions, organised by European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and Institute for Biomedical Problems and has worked as a Scientific Co-ordinator (manager) in the complex international scientific projects (HUBES, ECOPSY, SFINCSS) with simulated space flight conditions. He co-authored the Russian space medical laboratory project Medilab for the  space station Mir . He is a co-PI from Russian side in the MIR/NASA psychological experiment 'Crew Member and Crew-Ground Interactions during NASA/Mir' on board of 'Mir' space station.  A member of the Aerospace Medical Association, Vadim received an 'Honourable mention' in Space Medicine Branch Young Investigator Awards at the Aerospace Medical Association conference in Chicago, May 1997.  Since 1998 he has been a member of Editorial Board of Human Performance in Extreme Environments Society magazine.