Have you ever been marooned for an extended period in a confined space with strangers you have little in common with? Have you ever been in protracted and close proximity to individuals with curious quirks and horrible habits? I am, of course, referring to the prospect of being stuck in a crew module of an interplanetary spacecraft or the living quarters of an off-world outpost, rather than our wonderful workplaces.
The vehicles that will ultimately carry humanity to Mars and beyond will be somewhat more spacious and comfortable than the cramped capsules of the Apollo programme, but only relatively. Those brave enough to hurl themselves into the void will have to live in a small, spartan, and functional habitat, constantly in close quarters with their crew-mates. Any bases we are to establish, whether in space or on a planetary surface, will also bear little resemblance to a five star hotel. Technology will provide life support systems that satisfy our biological needs, but what of the psychological challenges?
NASA recently completed an 8 month experiment in crew isolation, designed to gauge the impact of space exploration on future astronauts who will sacrifice their privacy and freedom of action for the greater good of scientific discovery. The results of studies such as this will help to shape the crew composition and command structure of future missions, in the hope that the next generation of explorers do not vent each other out of the airlock before they reach their destination.
Comprising scientists, pilots, and engineers, we can expect the crew that first walks on Mars to be exceptional individuals and leaders in their fields. While they will undoubtedly be supremely committed to the pursuit of knowledge above all else, it is likely that throwing a bunch of oddball Einsteins and maverick Top Guns together for a long, arduous, and dangerous journey will result in personal conflict and psychological distress. Creating an effective team for our first ever manned mission to another planet may ultimately prove to be the greatest challenge ever faced in the field of Human Resources.
Whether it be nation versus nation, left wing versus right wing, or family versus family, friction is a fact of life; those who choose to embark on our next big adventure will have to put their differences aside and work as a cohesive team in order to ensure their survival. The challenges they will face cannot be overstated, but hopefully the handful of brave individuals who sign up for humanity’s next great endeavour will set an example for the rest of us by demonstrating what can be achieved through cooperation in the face of adversity.
So, if you ever find yourself stuck near individuals of questionable character and temperament for long periods of time, why not make it easier on yourself by pretending you’re an astronaut on a daring interplanetary mission…