Summary of Web chat held on April 17th with Drs
Jack Stuster and Claude Bachelard on crew selection and psychology
The following is a summary of some of the questions answered by Dr.
Jack Stuster, researcher on crew psychology and the psychological aspects
of long duration flights, and Dr. Claude Bachelard, medical director of
the French Polar Institute
Q : What are your research areas of expertise?
(Dr. Stuster) My work for NASA has been to study conditions that are
analogous to space missions (small groups living and working in isolation
and confinement). With me today is Dr. Claude Bachelard, medical director
for the French polar programs, who has wintered over at remote duty stations
and currently helpt to select personnel for four French stations, including
the Dumont d"Urville station in Antarctica. We are analyzing the content
of diaries that were maintained for this purpose by the leaders and medical
officers at the stations. This is part of another NASA, CNES project.
Q : Would it be desirable, if possible, to include qualified married
couples in an expedition to Mars?
Crews composed of husband and wife teams would have certain advantages
but disadvantages, as well. There might be less social isolation and greater
mutual suuport during the mission. The key is not the couple relationship
but the personal qualities of the individuals and their relationship. Disadvantages
could be that the couples would form sub groups that might detract from
Q : Is it better to select a homogeneous or a heterogeneous crew?
Selecting a homogeneous crew reduces the probability for interpersonal
conflict. In other words, the more similar the people are the fewer differences
there would be to be exaggerated into big issues. However, it will be impossible
to send a crew composed exclusively of Norwegian males, or French women.
But theoretically, the more similar the crew members, the fewer opportunities
for conflict. Remember, trivial issues are blown way out of proportion
by the special conditions of isolation and confinement.
Q : What would be desirable characteristics to look for in potential
The characteristics that seem to contribute to adaptation and good
performance in isolation and confinement are: likability, emotional control,
patience, tolerance, self-confidence (without being arrogant), a team approach,
a sense of humor, and being easily entertained. Overall, it is social compatibility
that is important.
Q : In your experience, what would be the ideal age for a long duration
Concerning the ages of crew members, Dr. Bachelard's experience is
that the differences should not be great. Due to the effects of radiation,
the personnel probably should be older rather than younger i.e., already
have had children, to eliminate some of the radiation risks.
The crew members could be older than the 30-45 age range, from a physiological
point of view. In a weightless environment, older less-fit people suffer
fewer negative effects than younger highly-physically fit individuals (really).
Q : What can Dr. Bachelard tell us about his research on Antartic
Dr. Bachelard was a member of the International Biomedical Expedition
to the Antarctic (1980-81). The expedition was composed of 12 people from
five countries. Problems occurred, and the divisions were along national
lines. Despite the difficult living conditions, the main problems were
psychological and social.
There never has been anything like the IBEA. Many countries, however, maintain
remote duty stations and conduct physiological and psychological evaluations.
One of the features that further distinguishes the IBEA was that the organizers
consciously were studing issues relevant to space missions. Other programs,
such as the Australian Antarctic program, also are studying issues relevant
to space exploration. The main topics are immunology, remote medicine (including
telemedicine, expert systems, etc.), endocrinology, and psychological adjustment
to the conditions.
It is very difficult to send someone home from Antarctica if they turn
out to be unsuitable. It would, of course, be impossible on an expedition
to Mars. The suitability of personnel must be established through high-fidelity
simulations long before they depart.
Q : Should a psychologist be part of the crew?
Psychologists probably will play a role on future long duration space
missions by remotely monitoring the performance of the crew members. This
will be accomplished unobtrusively, by studying indicators of stress, perhaps
in voice transmission, but also by changes in the frequency of communications
or changes in weight (actually mass, in a weightless environment), activity
level, and other indicators.
Dr. Bachelard and I (Dr. Stuster) agree strongly that a psychologist would
be unnecessary as a member of the crew.
Q : Would the physiological effects of a long duration trip be very
After a one-year transit to Mars, the crew members will be suffering
effects of the absence of gravity, even if they exercise a lot en route.
Fortunately, the gravity on Mars is less than on Earth, so the performance
decrement probably will be acceptable. When the crew returns to Earth,
however, they will be in bad shape. Psychosocially, however, gravity will
not be an issue.
The crew members would carried from the space craft and due to bone demineralization
would risk breaking bones if they tried to support their weight, among
other problems such as cardiovascular deconditioning. Our bodies perform
a work out each day supporting us in the gravity of Earth. Without that
work out everything atrophies.
Q : Are previous simulations of confinement situations necessary?
We strongly agree that high-fidelity simulations are necessary, involving
actual Mars mission crew personnel. The simulation would be most effective
if conducted in a hostile outside environment, like Antarctica. Dr. Bachelard
presently is working on the development of such a facility, along with
the Italian Antarctic Project. The facility is called Concordia Station.
The plan is to open Concordia to researchers from all nations--a truly
Concordia will be a permanent station with at least a ten-year program
Concordia will be an operational research station in the year 2000 (we
We would like to thank Drs. Jack Stuster and Claude Bachelard
for a very interesting chat and their generosity in answering our questions!!