Human adaptability is largely regarded as the most compelling argument for manned space missions. Both directly controlled and autonomous robots are limited by many factors, such as complete dependence on their programming and inputs from humans back on Earth. The communication delays and lack of basic human situational awareness slows down exploration, inhibits adaptability, and limits serendipitous discoveries. Thus, in recognizing the importance of human flexibility, the value of human decision making must be cultivated and allowed to flourish.
During manned missions in deep space, communication delays and interruptions pose a potential inhibitor to the benefits provided from human adaptability by requiring astronauts to rely on contact and input from people back on Earth. Over-reliance on Earth and Mission Control can similarly limit flexibility by unnecessary interference with humans on a mission. Space agencies need to prepare adequate command and control parameters that allow for the highest possible level of authority and responsibility to reside with the astronauts.
The PRIMA expedition would like to test the theory that Mission Control is a resource that astronauts must use, but the successful completion of a deep space mission requires the highest possible level of crew autonomy. Our MDRS research proposal is to test different levels of Mission Control input during mission critical tasks and decisions while accurately simulating communication delays. We are also looking for potential collaborations with other MDRS crews so that over the course of multiple MDRS missions we can set different standards of Mission Control interaction and input. These standards would remain consistent throughout a majority of the respective mission to allow each crew and Mission Control to develop an operational rhythm. Once the rhythm is developed communications would be disrupted for various lengths of time. This would allow us to gauge the crew’s relative autonomy and ability to successfully complete the mission despite of a partial disconnection from Mission Control. We would assess the effectiveness of different levels of required interaction and the crew’s ability to adapt rapidly during periods of interrupted communication. Indeed, the following attributes would be assessed in order to evaluate the crew operational performance: efficiency, crew cohesion, relationship quality with Mission Control, decision speed and decision quality.
The end result of this research will be a recommendation for how to structure command and control during deep space missions. The PRIMA crew believes that this research will not only benefit our understanding of command and control structures, but enable us to contribute to MDRS overall efforts towards paving the way for manned deep space missions.