Good teamwork and a sense of humour among astronauts may be essential if humanity hopes to establish a colony on Mars, according to scientists who suggest that a understanding the psychological dynamics of a group trapped in a confined space for months is just as important as technology.
Astronauts who are highly emotionally stable, agreeable, open to new experiences, conscientious, resilient, adaptable and not too introverted or extroverted are more likely to work well with others, according to researchers.
A sense of humour will also help to defuse tense situations, they said.
"Teamwork and collaboration are critical components of all space flights and will be even more important for astronauts during long-duration missions, such as to Mars," said Lauren Blackwell Landon, research scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center in the US.
"The astronauts will be months away from home, confined to a vehicle no larger than a mid-sized RV for two to three years and there will be an up to 45-minute lag on communications to and from Earth," said Landon, lead author of the study published in the journal American Psychologist.
Currently, psychological research on spaceflight is limited, especially regarding teams. Applying best practices in psychology, researchers offered insights into how NASA can assemble the best teams possible to ensure successful long-duration missions.
The long delay in communication to and from Earth will mean that crews will have to be highly autonomous as they will not be able to rely on immediate help from Mission Control.
This will be an ongoing challenge and having defined goals, building trust, developing communication norms and debriefing will help alleviate potential conflict, researchers said.
They also advised the use of technology to monitor the physiological health of astronauts to predict points of friction among team members, due to lack of sleep, for example.
"Successfully negotiating conflict, planning together as a team, making decisions as a team and practising shared leadership should receive extensive attention long before a team launches on a space mission," said Landon.