Behavioral and biological effects of autonomous versus scheduled mission management in simulated space-dwelling groups

Peter G. Roma, Steven R. Hursh, Robert D. Hienz, Henry H. Emurian, Eric D. Gasior, Zabecca S. Brinson, Joseph V. Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Logistical constraints during long-duration space expeditions will limit the ability of Earth-based mission control personnel to manage their astronaut crews and will thus increase the prevalence of autonomous operations. Despite this inevitability, little research exists regarding crew performance and psychosocial adaptation under such autonomous conditions. To this end, a newly-initiated study on crew management systems was conducted to assess crew performance effectiveness under rigid schedule-based management of crew activities by Mission Control versus more flexible, autonomous management of activities by the crews themselves. Nine volunteers formed three long-term crews and were extensively trained in a simulated planetary geological exploration task over the course of several months. Each crew then embarked on two separate 34 h missions in a counterbalanced sequence: Scheduled, in which the crews were directed by Mission Control according to a strict topographic and temporal region-searching sequence, and Autonomous, in which the well-trained crews received equivalent baseline support from Mission Control but were free to explore the planetary surface as they saw fit. Under the autonomous missions, performance in all three crews improved (more high-valued geologic samples were retrieved), subjective self-reports of negative emotional states decreased, unstructured debriefing logs contained fewer references to negative emotions and greater use of socially-referent language, and salivary cortisol output across the missions was attenuated. The present study provides evidence that crew autonomy may improve performance and help sustain if not enhance psychosocial adaptation and biobehavioral health. These controlled experimental data contribute to an emerging empirical database on crew autonomy which the international astronautics community may build upon for future research and ultimately draw upon when designing and managing missions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1581-1588
Number of pages8
JournalActa Astronautica
Volume68
Issue number9-10
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2011

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Keywords

  • Autonomy
  • Cortisol
  • Interactive simulation
  • Psychosocial
  • Team performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering

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