|Dr. Jason Kring believes that the psychological limitations of humans will be the limiting factor of long-duration manned space expeditions, not our biology or engineering problems.|
He is the current president of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments (HPEE) and coordinates our student chapter for that group. He is also interested in team/crew performance and cultural factors in aviation and aerospace.
Kring believes that the psychological limitations of humans will be the limiting factor of long-duration manned space expeditions, not our biology or engineering problems.
In long-term study of crew isolation conducted on Earth,the Mars500 experiment, Kring found some very striking factors.
Although they did not actually go to Mars, for the six men in the capsule, the 'journey' was an intense experience. The six crewmen — three Russian, one Chinese, one French and one Italian — spent a year and a half living in three small rooms in the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, enduring a living space of just 550 cubic metres for 520 days.
The exercise is a long way from simulating the pressures of a real mission to Mars, some observers point out. Even though they were isolated and subjected to simulated emergency situations, such as power cuts, the crew members were not presented with any real risk. "The fact that any one of them could bang on the door and ask to be let out does detract from the simulation," says Kring.
The simulated time-delay in communications was one realistic aspect of the mission, says Kring. In previous human space flights, mission control has always been consulted for every technical task, even telling the astronauts when to wake up and when to go to the bathroom. But with a 20-minute delay, a real Mars crew would have much more autonomy, says Kring. If a fire starts, for example, it would be 40 minutes before mission control could respond. Experiences of the time delay in Mars500 will help to shape the necessary changes in operational procedures for real Mars missions.
Kring has other concerns. "I'm disappointed that there were no women," he says. "I think the first mission to Mars will have a woman on board." Kring and others have looked closely at the effect of mixed-gender crews, and he thinks that having both men and women is crucial. A team is more civilized with women and men present together, he says.
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