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Dr. Jason Kring, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Picking a Crew for Mars

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jason Kring of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University describes the known and unknown challenges of long-term space flight.

Jason Kring is an assistant professor of human factors and systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. His research interests include spaceflight human factors and behavioral health and human performance in extreme environments. He is the current president of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida.

About Dr. Kring

Dr. Jason Kring – Picking a Crew for Mars

I hope I’m still around when we send the first humans to Mars. Certainly my five-year old daughter will witness this remarkable journey. She might even be one of those selected for the Mars crew and join the ranks of female space pioneers like Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride and Eileen Collins.

The choice of who makes that first flight is the focus of my research at Embry-Riddle. Along with colleagues at two other Florida universities, we’re trying to find the best combination of individuals for long-duration space missions. Each person on a crew has unique qualities that affect how they interact and work together. For example, nationality and culture affect how people communicate and their needs for privacy and personal space. But the most basic difference is gender.

So what is the best combination of men and women for a space crew? In other places with extreme isolation and confinement, such as Antarctic research stations, teams with both men and women tend to have higher levels of morale and productivity compared to the all-male teams that were the norm before the 1980s. Some research shows mixed-gender teams make better decisions. On the other hand, a 1999 space mission simulation here on Earth suggests that male-female interpersonal and romantic relationships can lead to miscommunication and conflict. This raises an important question. Should we send married couples or a group of single men and women to Mars? Should there be a “no-dating” policy during that three-year journey in space?

We need to answer these questions because the biggest obstacle to a successful Mars mission is not technology, it’s the human factor. The future of human spaceflight depends on not only finding people with the “right stuff” but finding the “right mix” of men and women to expand our horizons in the cosmos.

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