MSU Social Scientist’s research to help NASA’s future missions to Mars

February 20, 2019

Steve Kozlowski, Ph.D, Michigan State University Psychology professor, in the College of Social Science,  is working on NASA funded research that could help in  missions to Mars, and beyond by lending new insight on the social bonding of a team.

Kozlowski, the principal investigator on the project, is also working with Subir Biswas Ph.D. (MSU College of Engineering), and Chu-Hsaing (Daisy) Chang Ph.D. in Psychology.

Kozlowski presented his research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting about his NASA funded research this past Sunday. His research was featured at the meeting in a symposium entitled, “Understanding and Enabling Teams for Future Missions to Mars”. Kozlowski’s particular portion of the symposium focused on capturing team process dynamics.

Kozlowski’s research deeply examines the cohesiveness of teams who work for long periods of time in isolated, confined, and extreme environments referred to as “ICE environments”.   The teams being studied are working in places that mimic the surface and desolate environment of Mars, like Antarctica, and on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.

The research is meant to examine how these ICE environments affect team cohesiveness over various duration periods between 1-52 weeks.

Kozlowski discovered that the destabilization and breakdown of social cohesion occurs at four to seven months into missions.

“We’ve noticed that after this amount of time that one or more team members begin to fluctuate on their cohesion perceptions and there is contagion across the team, as a result of stresses of living in these ICE environments,” said Kozlowski.

This research is collected in part with the help of TIS or team interaction sensor technology that is worn in the form of a badge-like device.  TIS is  used to capture team interaction and also measures  physiological factors, like heart rate, to determine moods, especially when in close proximity to others who are also wearing the technology.  This technology allows researchers to gather more accurate data, versus using methods like self-reporting or questionnaires.

“We cannot have a lot of missing data. We need to be able to adequately evaluate each day for the entire duration of the mission, this data requires a lot of diligent attention and time. It can be hard to maintain for this long especially for a long journey to Mars,” Kozlowski said.

Kozlowski adds “We are helping a new generation of scientists, in our efforts to get to Mars. We are seeing the groundwork take place to make that vision a reality for the next generation of scientific advancement.”

Kozlowski hopes that his team’s insights, coupled with this type of technology will help us understand team cohesion that will help not only those traveling to space, but could help other kinds of teams, like those in every day general workforce spaces.