Tasks and Abilities for the Human Exploration of Mars


Tasks and Abilities for the Human Exploration of Mars


Jack Stuster

About the Speaker

Dr. Stuster is a cultural anthropologist and Certified Professional Ergonomist specializing in the measurement and enhancement of human performance in extreme environments. He has analyzed the work performed by telecommunications technicians, military specialists, and astronauts. His research for NASA began in 1982 with a systems analysis of space shuttle refurbishing procedures and has been followed by studies of conditions that are analogous to space missions, which led to recommendations to facilitate human performance on the International Space Station, space craft, and at planetary facilities.


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A scientific approach to the human exploration of Mars began in 1952 with the publication of Wernher von Braun’s Das Marsprojekt, which described the mathematics necessary to enable interplanetary travel. The English-language version (The Mars Project) led to a series of articles in Collier’s, a weekly magazine with a tradition of influencing public opinion and government policy. The series, titled “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” was published in eight, beautifully-illustrated installments between 1952 and 1954. Those articles inspired Walt Disney to recruit von Braun and other experts for three episodes of the wildly-popular Disneyland television program; the third episode, “Mars and Beyond,” was broadcast in December 1957, two months after the Soviet Union shocked the world with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, which led directly to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA has been designing equipment, space suits, and space habitats, and preparing plans for the human exploration of Mars since the agency was formed in 1958. Thousands of scientists and engineers at NASA, universities, and aerospace contractors have worked on dozens of plans for a human expedition to Mars since then. However, no one actually identified the tasks that would likely be performed by the explorers, until now.

Dr. Jack Stuster will present the results of a three-year study that addresses several NASA risks by identifying the work that will be performed during an expedition to Mars and the abilities, skills, and knowledge that will be required of crew members. The study began by developing a comprehensive inventory of 1,125 tasks that are likely to be performed during the 12 phases of the first human expeditions to Mars, from launch to landing more than 30 months later. Sixty subject matter experts (including UND faculty and graduate students) rated expedition tasks in terms of frequency, difficulty to learn, and importance to mission success. Seventy-two SMEs placed the physical, cognitive, and social abilities necessary to perform the tasks in order of importance for eight specialist domains identified by the task analysis. The research team then identified, 1) Abilities, skills, and knowledge that can be generalized across tasks; 2) Cross-training strategies; and, 3) Implications for crew size and composition, and for the design of equipment, suits, habitats, and procedures to support sustained human performance during exploration-class space missions. The days of describing an interplanetary mission plan with detailed mathematical calculations and a few sentences of speculation about the humans who would make the journey are gone.


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Publication Date



Grand Forks, ND

Tasks and Abilities for the Human Exploration of Mars