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During our AMADEE-20 Mars simulation in October 2021, the Human Factors team had the task of supporting the analog astronauts and the team in the Mission Support Centre (MSC). During the mission, operational data on well-being, mental health, performance, attention and sleep, but also data on inter-group communication and stress management were analysed and processed in the MSC. Human Factors provided support for all issues related to crew mental health and worked with the Biomedical Engineers (BME) on a daily basis. The Human Factors team supported the MSC with briefings, e.g. on conflict management as well as psychological experiments.
In the following interview, Alexandra de Carvalho, head of the Human Factors team, gives us an insight into her work.
What requirements and experience are necessary to participate in an OeWF analog mission as a member of the Human Factors team?
Alexandra: We have people with a psychological, psychotherapeutic or similar basic training. You can also be in the middle of your studies or training. What is important is an interest in the field of space psychology, curiosity, team spirit and the necessary time to get involved with us. In return, team members can expect an inspired and motivated team of people with very different backgrounds (neuroscience, clinical psychology, sleep research, etc.).
The Human Factors team is responsible for the mental health of the teams involved, both in the field and in the MSC during the mission. How do you communicate with the teams in the field from a distance, especially considering the time lag between “Earth” and “Mars”?
Alexandra: On Earth it’s easy for us: we always have members in the Mission Support Center who support and accompany the teams on Earth. We register the mood, take care of breaks or hold talks with debriefings. It gets more difficult “on Mars”. Here we use mails or the chat program. But it is also important that we have a kind of “monitoring” running in both teams during the mission, where we record various parameters daily by means of questionnaires. These include sleep, concentration, mood – and in this way we offer people a regular opportunity to report to us or raise their issues. It is realistic that we are not directly in the field – that would not be the case in a real Mars mission either. So it’s important to train how we can be active remotely, but also how we train teams in advance so that they can do it on their own.
How long before a mission are regular examinations and preparations for the mental health of the analog astronauts carried out?
Alexandra: Our support starts with the selection of new team members. Those who come into the field are assessed by us. Then we support the regular trainings or offer our own trainings. Even after the mission, we talk to the teams and collect lessons learned for the next missions.
What does it do to a person mentally when she/he frequently has to work in a concentrated way in exceptional situations – and carrying our almost 50 kg spacesuit simulator is certainly one of them – and knows that teams depend on and wait for the results of the work?
Alexandra: Exceptional situations lead to stress. But here it is important to check whether the stress is still challenging or overwhelming for individual team members. Challenge in short phases (e.g. an EVA) can even lead to someone being more efficient and getting more done. This can even feel euphoric and also rewarding and self-esteem boosting. We work with people who like to have this feeling and who often expose themselves to extreme situations. It is important that the situation remains doable for people. If you are too overwhelmed, you can’t concentrate, get in a bad mood and make more mistakes. This can also lead to conflicts in the team. That’s why we try to work out a workload with the teams that is challenging, but not too demanding. Boredom would be nothing for our astronauts either.
How long do you accompany the field crews during the rehabilitation phase after a mission to ensure that the analog astronauts and the OSS team are in a good mental state and what do you place particular emphasis on during this phase?
Alexandra: We discuss with the teams after the mission and then check individually what is needed. Almost always, the crews are doing well, people are able to reintegrate into their daily lives and describe their experience as positive. For most of them, it is important that their experiences also have an influence on further missions (lessons learned), from which others can benefit. We take care of this and help the teams to structure such aspects.
During the mission, your team was very involved and you had long working days. How do you ensure the necessary distance and your own mental health?
Alexandra: The most important rule: breaks make you productive! Only those who take breaks can generate new energy to be able to deliver a good performance again. We pay attention to that. It is important that we as a team are a role model for other groups and set an example of taking a break. Second rule: Have fun! No matter how stressful or annoying workdays are, it is important to include private, happy and bonding elements in a mission. This can be eating pizza together or having a karaoke evening with everyone else. Something like that brings people back to life and increases everyone’s motivation. Then everyone should look at what he or she personally needs to stay mentally fit and motivated. For me, sport and a healthy diet are essential so that I can organise my day; someone else needs more sleep or rest phases and should also build these in. This has nothing to do with weakness, but with self-care. When my car runs out of fuel, it doesn’t go faster because I step on the gas, but because I fill it up again. It’s the same with people.
Thank you, Alexandra!
More detailed information about the mission: https://oewf.org/en/amadee-20/
Dieser Artikel ist auch verfügbar auf: German
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