Space & Innovation

Why Extroverts Could Cause Problems on a Mission to Mars

As NASA focuses considerable effort on a mission to send humans to Mars, psychology researchers are looking at what types of personalities would work the best on such a long trip.

As NASA focuses considerable effort on a mission to send humans to Mars in the coming decades, psychology researchers are looking at what types of personalities would work the best together on such a long trip.

Now, a new study finds that on long-term space missions - such as missions to Mars, which could take as long as three years to complete a round trip - having an extrovert on board could have several disadvantages.

For example, extroverts tend to be talkative, but their gregarious nature may make them seem intrusive or demanding of attention in confined and isolated environments over the long term, the researchers say.

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"You're talking about a very tiny vehicle, where people are in very isolated, very confined spaces," said study researcher Suzanne Bell, an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "Extroverts have a little bit of a tough time in that situation."

If one person on a crew always wants to talk, while the other members are less social, "it could actually get pretty annoying," in that environment Bell said. (Remember George Clooney's character in the movie "Gravity"?) [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]

The researchers concluded that extroverts could potentially be a "liability" on these missions.

Extroverts and teams NASA is interested in a number of issues related to planning long-term space missions, including how to put together the most compatible teams for the missions.

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In the new study, which is funded by NASA, Bell and her colleagues reviewed previous research on teams who lived in environments similar to those of a long-term space mission, including simulated spacecraft missions of more than 100 days, as well as missions in Antarctica.

Typically, extroverts- who tend to be sociable, outgoing, energetic and assertive - are good to have on work teams because they speak up and engage in conversations about what needs to be done, which is good for planning, Bell said. And because of their social interactions, extroverts tend to have a good understanding of who knows what on a team (such as who the experts in a certain field are), which helps foster coordination.

But the researchers found several potential drawbacks to having extroverts on teams in isolated, confined environments.

In one study of a spacecraft simulation, an extroverted team member was ostracized by two other members who were more reserved, Bell said. "They thought he was too brash, and would speak his mind too much, and talk too much," Bell said.

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Moreover, extroverts may have a hard time adjusting to environments where there's little opportunity for new activities or social interactions, the researchers said.

"People who are extroverted might have a hard time coping because they want to be doing a lot; they want to be engaged in a lot of things," said study researcher Shanique Brown, a graduate student in industrial and organizational psychology at DePaul. "And [on these missions], there won't be that much to do - things become monotonous after a while, and you're seeing the same people."

Don't send extroverts to Mars?

The new findings don't mean that extroverts can't go to Mars. More specific studies are needed to look at how extroverts fare on these teams, and whether certain kinds of training could help prevent problems, Bell said.

Such studies could be conducted in space-simulation environments, or on the International Space Station, Bell said.

Bell noted that a team of all introverts is likely not the solution. "The question is, where's the balance, and once we find the balance, what can we do through training" to promote team compatibility? Bell said.

Original article on Live Science.

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Artist's rendering of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle on a deep space mission.

MAHLI Power

Since NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity landed on the red planet, each sol (a Martian "day") of the mission sees a flood of new photographs from Aeolis Palus -- the plain inside Gale Crater where Curiosity landed on Aug. 5. In September 2012, mission controllers sent the command for Curiosity to flip open the dust cap in front of the robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Until that point, the semi-transparent dust cap only allowed MAHLI to make out fuzzy shapes -- although it did a great job imaging Curiosity's "head" and it is also famous for capturing Curiosity's first color photograph. But since the true clarity of MAHLI has been unleashed, we've been treated to some of the most high-resolution views of the rover, Martian landscape and, most importantly, we've seen exactly what MAHLI was designed to do: Look closely at Mars rocks and dirt, assembling geological evidence of potential past habitability of Mars.

The Business End

Curiosity is armed with 17 cameras and MAHLI is designed to capture close-up photos of geological samples and formations as the rover explores. MAHLI was designed and built by Malin Space Science Systems and is analogous to a geologist's hand lens -- only a lot more sophisticated. Its high-resolution system can focus and magnify objects as small as 12.5 micrometers (that's smaller than the width of a human hair!). This photograph captured by the rover's Mastcam shows the MAHLI lens (with dust cap in place) in the center of the end of Curiosity's instrument-laden robotic arm.

Lights On!

To aid its studies, MAHLI is equipped with four LEDs to light up the imager's samples.

Mars Dirt

The first photograph to be returned from MAHLI without the dust cover in place was received on Sol 33 (Sept. 8) of Curiosity's mission. Shown here is a view of the ground immediately in front of the rover. Although this photo was a test, mission scientists were able to do a very preliminary study of the large "pebble" at the bottom of the picture: "Notice that the ground immediately around that pebble has less dust visible (more gravel exposed) than in other parts of the image. The presence of the pebble may have affected the wind in a way that preferentially removes dust from the surface around it," they wrote.

How Did Lincoln Help MAHLI?

On Sol 34 (Sept. 9), MAHLI was aimed at Curiosity's calibration target. This target is intended to color balance the instrument and provide a "standard" for mission scientists to refer to. The 1909 Lincoln penny was provided by MAHLI's principal investigatory Ken Edgett. Using a penny as a calibration target is a nod to geologists' tradition of placing a coin or some other object of known scale as a size reference in close-up photographs of rocks, says the MSL mission site.

Dusty Wheels

Although MAHLI will be used to examine microscopic scales, it is showing its prowess at generating some spectacular high-definition views of the rover. Shown here is a mosaic of Curiosity's three left-side dusty wheels.

Hazard Avoidance Cameras

Hazard Avoidance Cameras, or Hazcams, have become "standard issue" for the last three rovers to land on Mars. Mounted on the front and back of rovers Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity, these small cameras provide invaluable information about the terrain and potential hazards surrounding the rovers. These cameras are not scientific cameras -- they are engineering cameras. Shown here, MAHLI has imaged the four front Hazcams on Curiosity. Interestingly, it was these cameras who returned Curiosity's first dusty image after touch down in August.

Underbelly

Using the flexibility of the robotic arm, MAHLI was able to check the underside of Curiosity. As the camera can focus on objects from 0.8 inch (2.1 centimeters) to infinity, MAHLI has incredible versatility allowing mission controllers to focus on the very small features of Mars to checking the health of the rover to viewing the impressive vistas beyond.

Mystery Object

In October 2012, the Internet was abuzz with speculation about a "mystery object" lying beneath the rover during digging operations at "Rocknest." Sadly, after studying the translucent object, mission scientists deduced that it wasn't anything native to the alien environment, it was actually a piece of plastic that had fallen from Curiosity. Yes, Curiosity is littering the red planet.

Digging In

The MAHLI camera was very attentive while Curiosity dug trenches in the Mars soil at "Rocknest."

Mars Flower?

In early 2013, MAHLI snapped another curious photo. This time, after driving to a rocky outcrop at a location dubbed "Yellowknife," the camera picked out what appeared to be some kind of organic-looking object embedded in the rock. Nope, it's not a Mars "flower" -- more likely it's a concentration of minerals.

Cheese!

In what has become an iconic photo of Curiosity, MAHLI was commanded to capture dozens of high-resolution pictures of the rover. Like an "arms length" shot you may have in your Facebook profile, Curiosity did the same, composing a mosaic of pics taken with its outstretched robotic arm.

Curiosity Cleans Up!

The Mars rover isn't only a scientific superstar, it also has a talent for cleaning. This circular pattern on a Mars rock was brushed aside by Curiosity's Dust Removal Tool (DRT), helping the rover carry out analysis of the rock surface beneath the layer of dirt.