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The Flight Director (FD), or more precisely a Flight Director team, was responsible for the overall operations of the AMADEE-20 mission. During the mission or simulation preparation, the Flight Director, together with the mission management, ensured that the resources of the Mission Support Centre (MSC) and the supporting operational teams were sufficient to conduct mission operations. In October 2021, a designated Flight Director was on call 24 hours a day throughout the mission.
In the 4th interview of our review of the AMADEE-20 Mars Simulation, we look back with Flight Directors Reinhard Tlustos and Guillaume Thirion.
Was the time of preparation for the mission or the mission phase itself more work-intensive for you? (Which time was more nerve-wracking?)
Reinhard: The preparation phase was work intensive over a long period, while the mission phase was work intensive every day, as in getting up early and going to bed late, with always something to do in between.
I would say the preparation in itself was more challenging, also due to the shift in the timeline because of Covid lockdowns. Once the mission started, there was a sort of relief – we did all we could to prepare and now we get to do the mission. The rocket has lifted off, so to speak. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have challenging situations during the mission, but with the teams on „Mars“ and Earth, we handled it together.
How do you keep the concentration high in the MSC with so many teams?
Guillaume: Trainings, the trust into Flight Control Team (FCT) and into other MSC team members, the use of standard procedures and a proper flow of communication help to keep the concentration high at MSC. Thanks to all these points, we have a proper flow of information and we can stay focused on the current or future (10-min delayed) tasks.
Reinhard: The good thing is, that even as a Flight Director, I am not alone. I have my fellow FDs to take over and an excellent MSC team to work with. We were able to act flexible and split the work as necessary. That means I could trust my colleagues to handle a situation, while I needed to concentrate on a different topic.
What is needed to balance it out so that, in addition to concentration, the mood stays at a very tolerable level? Were there opportunities for team members to retreat?
Guillaume: It is important to detect when team members need a break might it be only a micro-break. Then, when it was possible to decrease the workload and the level of concentration, we mitigated the pressure by randomly asking a flight controller to find a space-related joke. It was also possible during AMADEE-20 for team members to ask to step down and retreat.
The MSC daily debriefings and the associated claps game also helped to feel as one team and to put forward the good mood. I did only see smiles on MSC members during such moments. Finally, when schedule allows, joint activities such as karaoke, hikes or common meal cooking and sharing were organized. Special mention to the Human Factors position introduced during AMADEE-20, which really helped for the great atmosphere.
How challenging was the work in the Earth – “Mars” (Negev Desert) time delay during the simulation? What all had to be considered?
Reinhard: This is the one thing, no matter how much you think about it or how much experience you have, that is always challenging. The biggest challenge is that there are several conversation topics going on at the same time via the time-delayed text chat, some spanning hours or even days until they are resolved. Keeping track is hard, especially because both Earth and Mars are working on the issues at the same time, but the results are only received time delayed. More than once the MSC crew came up with a solution that was transmitted, only to get the message from Mars in the meantime, that another (or the same) solution has been found and implemented. Sometimes work happens in parallel and there is nothing that can be done. This is frustrating but exactly the reason why we do it, to develop a better procedure to deal with the time delay and improve communication.
Guillaume: Mars analog missions are international, intercultural and interdisciplinary. Human factors play an important role here. In order to communicate, only one language is official: English. Since many participants are not native speakers of English, different cultures meet (e.g. language barrier, different accents, gestures, body language). During the mission, multiple teams work and communicate simultaneously and have to communicate under stress, pressure and isolation. As people handle stress differently, this stress affects their communication and information can also get lost. Indeed emotions can convey the message differently and impact the information and the reaction to this information. This is why clear and concise messages are needed. Last challenge: text messages can help with time delay and quality of the communication but they often lack emotions and can be misinterpreted.
In addition to the work of an FD, there was also public relations work such as press appointments at MSC. Were there phases when you, Reinhard, would have liked to have had a clone?
Reinhard: (Laughs) – Sure, maybe not a clone, but a projection of my consciousness that allows me to be in several places at once.
But I seriously think one Reinhard is enough. I am glad that when I went away from the Flight Control Room to handle a VIP or Press visit, my colleagues seamlessly stepped in. We are at the level where a few words or even only a gesture is enough to coordinate between each other. These moments, that have a lot going on at the same time, but everything is being handled by us as a team, are the moments I enjoy the most.
After the mission were you relieved and pleased that everything had been brought to a successful conclusion and went straight on to the next projects or did you rather fall into a hole? All of a sudden there was free time again… ;)
Guillaume: After the mission I was very proud of my team and went straight to the lesson learned collection, analysis and implementation. However, I have to admit that during the very post-mission first days I felt that something was missing in my daily life: intense pace at Flight Control Room, MSC interactions, Flight Plan review, science discussion with Remote Science Support and communication with our extraordinary Analog Astronauts and GOST teams are key elements which make the flavors of such experiences.
Reinhard: I was relieved that the AMADEE-20 mission phase concluded successfully. It was about time to get it done, and we were incredibly lucky that everything worked out in between Lockdowns and travel restrictions. There is always this sort of decompression after a mission, so yes, for a (short) time, I enjoyed the peace and quiet of having the mission behind us, but after the mission is before the mission – so we are already busy working on AMADEE-24 and beyond!
Thank you very much, Reinhard and Guillaume!
More detailed information about the mission: https://oewf.org/en/amadee-20/
This article is available in: German
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