mission controls on Earth trying to make that one crew successful. There is a lot of opportunity for a breakdown in shared cognition, a breakdown in team understanding, in addition to the psychological and physical stress going on with the astronauts.” A simple disagreement in that kind of environment could throw the astronauts into a psychological tailspin, Magnus added. “We need to develop tools to help NASA identify when such a breakdown is likely to happen before it actually happens,” she said. “The goal of our project is to develop a dashboard for NASA to be able to collect cues that are occurring in communication or interaction among astronauts and between astronauts and their support teams.” To develop the dashboard, researchers are collecting case study data as well as data from the International Space Station and a research analog in Antarctica.
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“Fast forward 15 or 20 years – if NASA’s mission to Mars is successful, I will feel enormous pride that I had a hand in a small piece of that.”
The Mission: to develop tools to help NASA identify when a breakdown in shared cognition is likely to happen before it actually happens. The Goal: to develop a dashboard for NASA to be able to collect cues that are occurring in communication or interaction among astronauts and between astronauts and their support teams.
They are also analyzing experimental data through NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog, a unique three-story habitat designed to serve as an analog for isolation and remote conditions in exploration scenarios. Four volunteers – astronauts and those in training – are put through sample missions, sleep deprivation experiments, tasks with different levels of stress and intentional breakdowns in communication to see how they react. To better understand how team communication and interactions may signal a breakdown in shared cognition, the research team is also conducting lexical analyses of transcripts from previous space missions as well as from passages of The Martian, a 2011 novel written by Andy Weir. “We picked three different passages where the main character had to interact with mission control or the crew that left
him behind,” said Magnus. “It was a very good representation of what could happen. It gave us some initial markers and predictive statistics to put into our model.” Magnus and the team are also exploring issues that could arise when astronauts switch between tasks, teams and technologies. “Every astronaut's schedule is planned to the minute. NASA wants to know how to schedule someone’s day to be maximally effective and to minimize time lost between tasks,” she explained. The three-year programmatic research will be complete in 2017. “This has been a very humbling experience for me, the idea that I could provide some insight like this,” Magnus said. “It is amazing to see my research applied to such a salient, real-world problem.”
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