Psychological Considerations in Astronaut Selection and Crew Support for Long Duration Space Missions
About the Speaker
Gloria R. Leon, Ph.D, Professor Emerita, served for 10 years as Director of the Clinical Psychology graduate program at the University of Minnesota, and 7 prior years as Assistant/Associate Director. She continues to carry out research and serve on advisory committees in both space and disaster-related areas. Much of her research has focused on the influence of personality and cultural factors on individual and group functioning.
She has conducted extensive space analog research on personality, behavioral functioning, and team processes of different polar expedition groups, studying teams composed of single gender, mixed gender, and cross-national members as an analog for space missions, and continues research in this area. Over a 13 year period, she was co-PI on NASA-funded research on the development and testing of cooling garments for space purposes, with a particular focus on the subjective perception of comfort and thermal status.
Dr. Leon collaborated with Russian and Belarus colleagues investigating the psychological status and health attitudes and concerns in a population affected by the Chernobyl disaster; the psychological status of Chernobyl power plant workers; the translation and standardization of the Russian language version of the MMPI-2 and other personality measures.
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The psychological criteria used to select international crews for lunar and Mars exploration missions has been a subject of considerable discussion; strategies for maintaining optimal functioning during the mission also present considerable challenges. A change in emphasis in the initial astronaut applicant screening process is needed, from ruling out psychopathology to identifying adaptive personality traits to enhance individual and group performance over an extended period of time.
During the mission, psychological dysfunction and crew conflicts among highly diverse mixed gender and cultural crews need to be anticipated and dealt with. Computer-interactive intervention programs show considerable potential to reduce intra-and interpersonal problems during the mission, and may be more “consumer friendly” in a space agency culture in which disclosure of personal issues can have negative consequences. Studies of polar expedition teams as an analog of planetary exploration can inform about adaptive personality traits and decision-making processes in extreme environments.
Findings from a longitudinal study of the Danish Sirius Patrol teams operating in Greenland indicated the importance of systematic interpersonal communication training prior to the start of a long-duration mission. In addition, considering the 2.5 year length of a Mars mission, it is possible that significant negative events in the home environment may occur that have a deleterious effect on work performance and interpersonal interactions with other crew members.
Grand Forks, ND
Leon, Gloria R., "Psychological Considerations in Astronaut Selection and Crew Support for Long Duration Space Missions" (2014). Space Studies Colloquium. 35.