Case Study

Mars 500

MARS 500 is an international research project aimed at interplanetary space flights; within this scheme, the first full simulation of human flight to Mars was launched on 3rd June, 2010.

Human error and miscommunication is a great concern in all space missions. The crew has to spend a long time in a confined space, isolated from the rest of the world and be constantly ready to quickly make crucial decisions. The cooperation among crew members must fulfill the highest standards even though they often differ in their language skills and come from different cultures.

The gravity of such long-term isolation transpired, for example, during the SFINCSS 99 experiment – a 240-day long simulated space mission – where conflicts among crew members escalated to physical aggression and an early resignation of one of them. During Mars 500 and Mars 105 experiments, sociomapping was regularly used in order to monitor interpersonal relations and prevent potential conflicts.

Human error and miscommunication is a great concern in all space missions. The crew has to spend a long time in a confined space, isolated from the rest of the world and be constantly ready to quickly make crucial decisions. The cooperation among crew members must fulfill the highest standards even though they often differ in their language skills and come from different cultures.

The crew in the Mars 500 experiment was composed of three Russians (nr. 2,3 and 4) and three other members (1,5,6), each coming from a different country. This cultural and linguistic separation was reflected in the communication patterns where the Russians communicated a bit more among themselves than with the international members. The map of overall frequency of communication shows that the three Russians are closer together.

  • Current frequency of communication Before Mars landing
  • Current frequency of communication Mars landing
  • Current frequency of communication Earth landing

We have also been tracking sudden changes in communication patterns that could signify changes in relations. The sociomapping tool captured one such change rougly at the middle of the experiment: the otherwise compact team split to two subteams. Unbeknowst to us, this occurred because the crew underwent a simulation of landing on Mars and they split physically – half of the crew stayed at the orbit while the other half was landing. After the crews reunited, the situation returned to normal.

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