Building a better team—on Mars

May 21, 2013
Michigan State University is leading a NASA-funded project to provide astronauts with innovative devices to improve teamwork. Credit: NASA

Sometime in the next quarter-century, NASA plans to send the first humans to Mars, a mission that will push the boundaries of teamwork for a handful of astronauts who will spend as long as three years together in a tiny capsule.

A Michigan State University project, now wrapping up its third year, aims to arm the crew with innovative devices to monitor interactions and provide instant feedback when conflict or other issues with team cohesion arise.

NASA recently awarded the project $1.2 million for another three years, bringing the total funding from the space agency to $2.5 million.

"We're developing a that captures the dynamics of team effectiveness in real time and then supplies that information back to the team members so they can use it to maintain their effectiveness," said Steve Kozlowski, lead investigator on the project and professor of psychology.

Each astronaut would get a device, or badge, which could end up being the size of a smart phone. The badge measures a number of activities including , motion, and face time between crew members. It could tell, for example, if a team member gets loud or turns away from a conversation abruptly – actions that, when done repeatedly, could signal a problem.

The badges are in development. A rudimentary version has proved effective in a lab setting and will now be measured in the field.

Kozlowski said the research team is collecting daily, "diary-type" information from scientific teams serving in isolated and similar to what astronauts encounter, including Antarctica. That information will help researchers develop a coherent picture of team functioning as they develop the badges.

Ideally, Kozlowski said, the badge would be capable of identifying an issue and relaying that information immediately to the NASA crew member, the crew leader or the entire team.

"It's really about giving the team tools that it can use to monitor its own psychosocial health – in other words, 'how are we doing'? – and if there any threats to that psychosocial health, offer early warnings so it can be dealt with it before it becomes a big problem," Kozlowski said.

Explore further: Wanted: Astronauts; Missing: US rocket to fly them

Related Stories

NASA's undersea mission submerges in the Atlantic

June 12, 2012

An international crew of aquanauts is settling into its home on the ocean floor, where the team will spend 12 days testing concepts for a potential asteroid mission. The expedition is the 16th excursion of the NASA Extreme ...

Rewriting the rules of teamwork

September 27, 2012

As scientists from different disciplines and regions help design a world-class nuclear research facility at Michigan State University, a team of MSU researchers will conduct one of the first major studies of how teams work ...

Space crew returns to Earth from ISS

March 16, 2013

Three astronauts returned safely to Earth from the International Space Station early Saturday, aboard a Russian capsule which landed on the freezing Kazakhstan steppe, mission control said.

Recommended for you

NEOWISE identifies greenhouse gases in comets

November 24, 2015

After its launch in 2009, NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft observed 163 comets during the WISE/NEOWISE prime mission. This sample from the space telescope represents the largest infrared survey of comets to date. Data from the survey ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.