Life on the way to Mars

Psychologists are analysing the results of an experiment that saw a crew of six spend 520 days living in conditions designed to replicate those they would experience on a voyage to Mars.

Chartered psychologist Pauline Willis, regional distributor for the Sociomapping suite of tools  , discussed the preliminary findings of the Mars500 experiment today at the Annual Conference of the Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology in Chester.

Mars500 used ‘Sociomapping’ to capture data about relationships between crew members and allow psychologists at mission control to monitor their team working from a distance and assess whether there were systemic issues affecting them that the team members themselves had missed.

The psychologists’ work contributed to the success of the Mars500 experiment. A previous attempt at conducting an experiment in long-term isolation experiment resulted in serious conflicts between crew members and was called off early.

Pauline Willis said: “The findings are significant for teams of all types working in environments where team performance is critical. In particular, for teams with ‘life or death’ responsibilities, like teams in aviation, the military and the emergency services.”

Early findings from the Mars500 have already informed additional research and work with military teams in Afghanistan, where they have been used to support key processes such as team selection and mission briefing and debriefing.