Bridging Analog Environments: comparison of group dynamics and cohesion between the human exploration research analog (HERA) and over-wintering Antarctic stations

Michael Zurek, Alexa Harris, Jeffrey Johnson, Leslie DeChurch, Noshir Contractor


Manned missions to the lunar surface, deep space, and ultimately Mars are fast approaching, with plans for the Artemis generation returning to the lunar surface as early as the year 2024. Increasingly complex and demanding journeys like these require extensive and thorough empirical validation from an array of studies and scenarios commonly referred to as analog environments, where astronaut-like crews experience the environmental conditions which mimic future space-faring mission. However, several types of analogs for long-duration space exploration (LDSE) exist and range from tightly regulated and regimented capsules/modules to remote and isolated scientific outposts in hostile and unforgiving landscapes. New results are produced and novel insight is attained with each mission, but how translatable are these findings across differing analogs and how might researchers tackle the issue of aggregating such results from these environments? Comparative analyses between isolated, confined, and controlled (ICC) and isolated, confined, and extreme (ICE) environments are paramount for paving the way forward to establish a human presence on and around the Moon as well as for the first missions to Mars. Starting in 2015, members of NASA grant “Project SCALE: shared cognitive architectures for long-term exploration” began researching group dynamics among teams in such analogs to highlight and better understand the psycho-sociological variables that influence both social and mission viability. Data were collected from two types of analog environments: three campaigns from the human exploration research analog (HERA), located at NASA Johnson Space Center, and two over-wintering Antarctic stations (South Pole and McMurdo). This project focuses on variables from team-dynamic surveys containing questions related to socio-metric viability (“With whom would you want to go on a three-year space mission?”) and nominations for informal social roles (“Storyteller,” “Comedian/Clown,” etc.). These surveys were taken periodically throughout the duration of the various missions and capture instances and trends of connectivity, cohesion, and conflict. Network metrics were generated from the survey responses and statistical correlations were calculated and compared across environments. Correlations from aggregated metrics for HERA and for Antarctica were compared with statistical outcomes from each campaign/location independently to assess generalizability of the data and whether cross-comparison between ICC and ICE environments would yield reliable and informative results. Additionally, network diagrams for these statistical relationships were produced and depict the significant relationships for each campaign and station. These were compared with visualizations originally generated from prior Antarctic studies to assess similarity between the results. Finally, cohesion measures for each mission and environment were calculated from the socio-metric viability responses to assess general levels of social viability. Our findings encapsulate the impact of isolation and confinement studies aimed at furthering LDSE twofold: they continue to demonstrate the need for cross-comparative analyses between ICC and ICE environments and highlight the plethora of extraneous variables that affect crews in such restricted environments. Present and future LDSE research and training protocols rely heavily on ongoing analog studies and simulations and will require an in-depth understanding of both the nuanced and apparent similarities and differences between ICC and ICE environments.

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