In addition to having the appropriate scientific or technical background, astronauts need to be intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy. However, there’s really no playbook yet for living on a planet that is millions of kilometres from Earth. Astronauts who want to be part of the first human mission to the Red Planet by 2030 will need more than just these qualities and qualifications to survive.
Do you have the right stuff?
According to a study published in the journal ‘Astrobiology’, an astronaut will need to be conscientious and eager to do the right thing. Conscientiousness can be defined as wanting to do your work or duty well and completely. Led by Western University in Canada, the research identified conscientiousness as a key trait that is more important than honesty, humility, emotionality, extroversion, openness and agreeableness. “Conscientiousness, an individual personality trait, can be thought of as a pooled team-resource,” first author Julia McMenamin, PhD student in psychology at Western University, stated in a ‘CNN’ article. “The more conscientiousness [sic] a team is, the better they will likely be at accomplishing tasks.” The research team considered some traits as non-negotiable for long space missions. One such trait is social loafing, or putting in less work. The findings were based on a 4-week experiment that simulated Mars with isolated and extreme conditions. Five astronauts, 4 men and 1 woman between the ages of 28 and 38, were asked to collaborate as if they were on Mars. After the experiment ended, they rated both themselves and their team on personality traits. Before, during and after the simulation, they filled out surveys on their team’s performance, any team conflicts and levels of stress.
Will we get along?
All five astronauts knew each other before the simulated Mars environment. “How familiar team members are with one another has been shown to help teams work better together likely because it provides team members with knowledge about each other and helps them communicate better and more efficiently,” McMenamin explained. Isolation and overcrowdedness are just two factors that could lead to conflict in the Martian setting. “Anyone who has worked on a team knows conflict amongst team members can harm team performance and make for a negative experience. When people argue about how to get things done, or get into personal disagreements, there is less time and energy left for completing tasks,” McMenamin added. “What’s interesting is that there are different types of conflict, and so long as interpersonal issues and arguments about how to go about accomplishing tasks are avoided, differences in views and opinions might actually improve team performance likely because this allows for the team to benefit from each member’s knowledge and perspective.” The research team wonders how things might turn out during a long mission. “Major issues caused by psychological distress and interpersonal problems don’t tend to show up until months or even years spent in an isolated, confined, and extreme environment, which highlights the need for longer-duration simulations,” McMenamin concluded.
Mars, astronaut, conscientiousness, personality trait, space mission