Crew Selection Issues
The process of selecting the crew for our Mars mission is perhaps even more challenging than any technical problems.
The extended mission duration of more than 2.5 years raises several issues with respect to crew design. The long time that will have to be spent in confinement and isolation by the crew, the need to deal internally with any emergency with no possibility of Earth help during most phases of the mission, the impossibility of a rapid return add to a mission of unique characteristics in the history of spaceflight.
Thus, apart from purely medical considerations that will also become very important to the feasibility of the mission, other psychological factors become preponderant. The mental health of the astronauts on board becomes a major problem, due to the long periods of time involved. There will be considerable periods of low activity in the mission (the forward and backward trips, for example), where the atsronauts will have to limit themselves to station keeping activities in preparation for the Mars landing and Earth return. During those periods of low activity where motivaton is low, the crew living in confined and close quarters must be carefully integrated so that quarrels do not erupt amongst them.
Several issues related to crew selection and design must be decided upon :
Size of the crew : Although the ultimate decision will be made upon propulsion considerations after calculating the total weight needed in terms of life support system mass per person, in this preliminary analysis of crew size we must determine a minimum size for the crew in terms of operational capacity for the mission.
Composition of the crew : A very important consideration is related to the composition of the crew. Traditionally all crews in manned space exploration have included one or more astronaut pilots. Some of the designers of manned missions (Dr.Zubrin, for example) state that given the demonstrated ability of guiding unmanned spacecraft safely to the surface of Mars taking a pilot would be an unnecessary waste of resources. They argue that a scientist trained minimally to override the automatic system in case of malfunction would be enough. All schools of thought consider essential to take on board a medical doctor to cope with medical problems during the trip. Should a mechanic be included in the mission to repair malfunctioning systems? How many scientists are necessary during a pioneer exploratory mission. Or should just extremely fit individuals integrate the crew on this occasion?
Gender : Even though there has been a significant advance of women astronauts lately (including several female Shuttle pilots) again in general all crews have been predominantly male. The unprecedented long duration of this mission raises unique considerations. Having an all male crew for such a long time is at least doubtful. Married couples are definitely a possibility, and mixed crews with non married members are also being considered. But what if two crew members fall in love wih each other and/or quarrel due to theri relationship? What about the other crew members that are "left out" ? Men are believed to be physically stronger, but on the other hand women are more resilient psychologically. The fact that there is no quick way to get the crew back adds to the need to consider all possible alternatives.
Nationality : The nationality of crew members will obviously be decided at least partially on investment considerations. If this is an internatioal venture, countries investing in development and construction of the spacecraft will feel legitimately that they have a right to be represented in the same proportion as their monetary investment on the mission. However, from the point of view of efficient crew design, perhaps having astronaust from the same country might prove to be advantageous, while on the other hand several nationalities would atrract attention from the whole world and emphasize the cooperative and peaceful nature of the mission.
Selection process : When the past issues are settled, selecting the crew becomes in itslef a major process. Once the desired characteristics of crew members are established and approved, the selection process must be able to detect those characteristics in potential candidates and filter out those personality traits that are undesirable. Selection criteria must be developed and implemented. A very interesting Astronaut Quiz can be found at the Bold Endeavors home page.