On Our Best Behavior
Optimization of Group Functioning on the Early Mars Missions
Vadim I. Gushin
It is something of an irony that a planet named for the God of War challenges mortal humans to psychosocial behaviors which may far surpass what is seen normally. Mars cannot be explored without a human presence on that planet. There is no robotic substitute for processing complicated information, making hard decisions, and solving non-standard problems. Many phenomena will be unknown and will need the intuition and the multiple perspectives of human cognition to discern them.
With a manned mission, come all the foibles of what it means to be human. Unfortunately, dysfunctional acts and events could jeopardize the autonomous, long-duration missions as Mars exploration requires. Space and other extraterrestrial environments require of people behaviors closer to zero-tolerance for deviance. This unavoidable fact calls for optimization of group functioning.
Understanding optimization calls for comprehending the occurrences and frequencies of deviance in extreme environments among teams living and working there; for baselines of optimal standards of performance still yet to be drawn; and for the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of less-than-optimal behaviors, not only on an individual basis, but especially on a group basis. Several perspectives and methods are discussed. Finally, it is contended, optimizing group functioning for the "first Martians" could lead to a higher order of behaviors conducive to international cooperation on Earth. In the conquest of Mars, we conquer ourselves.
Much about long-duration spaceflight is unknown, and the journey to Mars is the mission which is on the minds of all who concern themselves with flights of long-duration.
In spite of the American space program's success to date with unmanned probes, Mars cannot be properly explored without a human presence on that planet. There is no robotic substitute for processing complicated information, making hard decisions, and solving non-standard problems. A Mars flight would involve complicated situations with many variables; decisions which need to be made quickly; the operation of a number of complicated systems; and the need to maintain the reliability of those systems. Moreover, many phenomena encountered during the mission will be unknown and will need the intuition and the multiple perspectives of human cognition to discern them.
With a manned mission to Mars, come all the foibles of what it means to be human. Added to this, functions will be performed under increased information stress and responsibility due to a high degree of autonomy of flight. Unfortunately, deviant or dysfunctional acts and events could jeopardize the autonomous, long-duration missions as Mars exploration requires. They will exacerbate the detrimental effects of spaceflight on humans and could lead to disaster. Even a decision which is somewhat less than optimal could result in a failure to fulfill the mission program.
Comprehending the occurrences and frequencies of these acts is essential to optimizing crew training and safety; making inferences about long-term individual and group responses to extreme environments; identifying critical factors and underlying mechanisms affecting those responses; assessing the psychosocial contributions to the optimal human habitability of space; designing equipment and systems; and providing insight into conflict between human capabilities and system engineering methodologies which can inform spacecraft design, mission planning, and related group operations, and lead to new processes and procedures.
Two traditions have emerged corresponding to the American and Russian space programs, respectively. The American approach essentially has been to ignore psychosocial concerns, and indeed most of the spectrum of human factors issues. This arose from the American focus on short-term flight. The Russian approach was to study psychosocial concerns substantially under the rubric of biomedical support to the Russian space program. This was in response to the Russian focus on long-term flight. Social and behavioral scientists have not taken the American tradition lying down, and have been crying "folly" for years on this issue which is even apparent to engineers. "Mad" Don Arabian, Director, Mission Evaluation Room, Johnson Space Center, defined every component of a spacecraft in terms of systems, even the astronauts (Lovell and Kluger 1994, pp. 287-288). To borrow the analogy, it can be said that NASA has neglected the systems which are human. Three and a half decades after the American entreé into space, this is still true, although a turnabout is in the making (Dudley-Rowley and Patrick Nolan 1997, pp. C3-C4).
One clear example are the various life support test projects and facilities operating under the Advanced Life Support program at Johnson Space Center (Maass 1998). In the meantime, a Russian team at the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow are pressing ahead with a high-fidelity International Space Station (ISS) Simulation. Unlike the American experiments which focus more on biological recycling in a contained environment, the Russian study examines all biomedical concerns including how Simulation team-mates who comprise multinational crews interact as they go about working and living in containment. The ISS program is an important rehearsal for the Mars venture. International Space Station Simulation project scientists have considered the requirements of a Mars mission. The most important factor of biomedical support on such a mission is ensuring "reliability in performance of each cosmonaut and of the whole crew at all mission stages", with timely and accurate fulfillment of all components of the flight program (Ilyin, Kholin, Gushin, and Ivanovsky 1992).
The Russian work aside, much still needs to be done. While people are certainly capable of adapting to a variety of extreme, isolated environments for long periods of time, physical, psychological, social, and cultural research still needs to be conducted to further facilitate human adaptation to hostile, confined, and isolated conditions, because how people adjust and adapt to these conditions can affect not only their mental health and social cohesion but also their performance of assigned duties (Levesque 1991). For, after all, "duties" on both a space station and on a Mars mission will be much more complex than on short duration flights where many functions were or could be handled by ground controllers. The physical infrastructures of these long-duration ventures require built-in, on-board diagnostic capabilities wired into the spacecraft and equipment and not to the ground. This will require of the crew a level of maintenance, component replacement, redundancies, and techniques that have not been invented yet (McCurdy 1993, pp. 153-154).
The main concern in any manned space mission is condition of the craft and life support. Unlike some other extreme environmental settings here on Earth, where a certain amount of time may be available to remedy a situation, damage to life support systems in space is an immediate concern, i.e., breachment of environmental containment. Some degree of human dysfunction is tolerated and even expected in terrestrial analogs, but space and other extraterrestrial environments require of us behaviors closer to zero-tolerance for deviance (Dudley-Rowley and Nolan 1997, p. C4). Similarly, Richard Jennings, former Chief of Flight Medicine at Johnson Space Center, has called for "fastidiousness in high-risk environments (Jennings 1997)."
One way to optimize group functioning of Mars crews is to promote active use of self-control and self-regulation methods among individual members (Ityin et al 1992, p. 271). These methods alone will not suffice, however. Diagnosis, prevention, and correction must not only be performed on an individual basis, but on a group basis as well. "[The] success in the mission will depend not only on the professional skill and motivation of each crewmember but to the same (and probably, greater) extent on the quality of their joint activity (p. 279)." Former NASA psychiatrist, Patricia Santy, has said that crewmembers must be trained to comprehend the role of social interaction. "Crew psychological training for the Mars venture must allow the crew an understanding of group dynamics; they must learn how to respond to stress and prevent its impact on performance; they must know the impact of leadership style; and to know how to cope appropriately with interpersonal tensions (Santy 1997)." Russian researchers add that training measures need also include practicing group interaction in extraordinary situations (Ilyin et aL, p. 278). This even may not be enough to achieve a high degree of group functioning. From his experience with the Biosphere II project, Roy Walford remarked that the breakdown in group cohesion which occurred in containment came as a surprise because of a great deal of prior teamwork focusing on extreme circumstances (Walford 1997). Other Biosphere II crew have made similar observations, how group cohesion disintegrated in containment after having literally held the lives of crewmates in one's hand in training experiences preceding enclosure (Sheddan 1995). A deep water caving expedition is another case of interest to space researchers where serious interpersonal divisions occurred. The expedition's team had trained together for four years without any group dysfunction. In fact, the team leader was an astronaut candidate program finalist who had not been selected upon further consideration (Bishop 1997).
It is becoming clear that along with prior training of any kind, Mars crews must have a system of monitoring and diagnosis on board to determine psychophysiological status, physical, professional, and psychological performance; and to be able to correct any undesirable changes (Ityin et al 1992, p. 277). An on-board multi-functional Complex, doubling as a medical and physical training center, could provide this system. Instrumentation could generate tests to determine psychological, physiological, and professional skills fitness of operators (p. 278). Results could be compared against a computer-generated baseline.
A problem presents itself at the outset and Patricia Santy has phrased the question succinctly: "What performance standards will be allowed before intervention is made (Santy 1997)?" This is part of the dilemma in the study of psychosocial aspects of long-duration spaceflight. We barely have begun to move beyond the results of a number of containment and prolonged bed-rest experiments (Gushin and Efimov). Results of these studies seem to maintain that interventions can be made based on a dynamic diagnosis of the functional state, current results, and crewmembers' styles (Ilyin et al 1992, p. 272). Results are also beginning to lend themselves to quantification and point to a second generation of rigorous studies. This can help us in the realm of diagnosis, where a psychosocial index or indices would be desirable.
The authors, along with our experimental psychologist colleague, Tom Gorry, are seeking such an index. We propose to call this instrument, the Altman Scale, after Irwin Altman, the social psychologist who first conceptualized such an instrument. We will videotape the interactions of the multinational crews in the International Space Station Simulation in Moscow next year. Our overarching twin ideas are to define a baseline about group functioning in space and space-like environments in order to define social states; and to develop the instrument to predict experiences groups have in those environments, for application as a measure of team social states, so that undesirable social states may be avoided and optimal ones maintained. Special foci are: 1) how the physical environment is actively used to cope with interpersonal compatibility and incompatibility and 2) precursor events of off-nominal, sociological deviant functioning. Acts and events which indicate off-nominal, sociological deviant functioning of crew have already been determined from expeditionary records (Dudley-Rowley and Nolan 1997, p. C6; Dudley-Rowley 1997). These are: 1) Unusual, bizarre, or puzzling behaviors (such as withdrawal and life-threatening behaviors); II) Acts of aggression (verbal and physical); and III) Acts of deliberation (such as resources theft, hoarding, or hogging resources, not doing one's work, and violating safety rules).
We will observe chronological trajectories and distributions of group functioning along six dimensions which may be couched as testable hypotheses. These are:
1. As mission duration increases, team members use more communicative modes corresponding to their developing more ways to convey information about how they feel to one another as well as cognitive information; and their increasing self-disclosure and addressing personal topical areas without the need to probe or with any hesitancy.
2. As mission duration increases, the more unique or idiosyncratic to the team their communications become.
3. As mission duration increases, the more efficient the team's communications become in terms of speed and back-and-forth understanding.
4. As mission duration increases, fewer communicative cues need to be exchanged to synchronize activities.
5. As mission duration increases, team members increase their movement in and out of discussion areas in facile ways, their exhibitions of intimate, touching gestures and body positions, their exchange patterns, and their movement into others' personal space without discomfort and much preamble.
6. As mission duration increases, team members increase their expressed judgements and their expression of feelings about one another.
We will videograph from the beginning of the ISS Simulation to the end of it. From this record, we will draw quantifiable data from random and systematic samples. Investigators' expectations are that communicative modes, unique communication, informalities, and evaluations will increase over time; and that queries for elaborative explanations and verbiage relating to synchronous activities will decrease over time. We will chart curves for each dimension over time. If the expected increases and reductions in the dimensions are not happening as expected as mission duration increases, it may be correlated with psychosocially off-nominal behaviors, and this is a clue of how off-nominal the social state is at any given time along the chronological trajectory. As dimensional increases and reductions run counter to expectations, there is probably going to be a correlation with increase in volume of unusual behaviors, aggressive actions, and deliberate negative acts. Each of the Altman dimensions will be graphed on profile using stanines. The acceptable degree of variation for each dimension can only be assessed after the Simulation is run and gauged for further robustness by looking at records from prior simulations or through use of the Altman Scale in analogs and actual flights. We expect our study over the course of the ISS Simulation to provide a level of quantitative rigor not yet available in the area of psychosocial aspects of long-duration missions.
In conclusion, we would like to point out that long-duration flights, like Mars missions, are more than just groups of people flying around in space. They are emergent societies. Roy Walford has remarked that isolated groups resemble primitive societies, not quasi-military bases (Walford 1997). This is consistent with Dudley-Rowley's observation that contained environments have the dynamics of hunting-gathering societies (Dudley-Rowley 1995). Patricia Santy has said that the Mars crews will develop a separate culture fairly rapidly (Santy 1997). What a culture it will be, too! The missions to Mars undoubtedly will be multicultural. National space programs will have to work together much like the Russian and American crews in Arthur C. Clarke's 2010 to save themselves on the dawn of a new relationship with the Cosmos. The peopling of Mars will rapidly draw humanity together in ways that diplomatic alliances have not. Optimizing group functioning for the "first Martians" could lead to a higher order of behaviors conducive to international cooperation on Earth. In the conquest of Mars, we conquer ourselves.
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