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March 4, 2019

Research aids future NASA missions to Mars

Steve Kozlowski, professor of psychology in the College of Social Science, will take his research to new heights … literally. Kozlowski is working on NASA-funded research that could aid missions to Mars – and beyond – by lending new insight on the social bonding of teams.

Collaborating with Kozlowski are psychology colleague Chu-Hsaing (Daisy) Chang and Subir Biswas, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Kozlowski’s research examined the cohesiveness of teams that worked for long periods of time in isolated, confined and extreme environments referred to as “ICE environments.” The teams involved in the research worked in the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, which mimicked the surface and desolate environment of Mars.

The researchers examined the NASA team’s dynamics every week for one year. They discovered that the destabilization and breakdown of social cohesion occurs at four to seven months into missions.

“We’ve noticed that after this amount of time that one or more team members begin to fluctuate on their cohesion perceptions and there is contagion across the team,” Kozlowski said. “This is a result of the stresses caused by living in these ICE environments.”

The astronauts wore a team interaction sensor, or TIS, which resembles a badge-like device. The TIS captured team interactions, as well as measured physiological factors to determine moods, especially when near others who also wore the technology. The technology allowed researchers to gather more accurate data than would have been attained using self-reporting or questionnaires.

“We cannot have a lot of missing data. We need to be able to adequately evaluate each day for the entire duration of the mission, this data requires a lot of diligent attention and time,” Kozlowski said. “It can be hard to maintain for this long especially for a long journey to Mars.”

Kozlowski hopes that his team’s insights, coupled with the use of TIA technology, will help scientists better understand team cohesion. He explained that his research can not only apply to those traveling to space, but also for other kinds of teams, like those in the everyday workforce.

“We are helping a new generation of scientists, in our efforts to get to Mars,” he said. “We are seeing the groundwork take place to make that vision a reality for the next generation of scientific advancement.”

Kozlowski presented his research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, where it was also featured in a symposium entitled, “Understanding and Enabling Teams for Future Missions to Mars.” Kozlowski’s portion of the symposium focused on capturing team process dynamics.

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