UCF teams with NASA to train astronauts

Three UCF professors recently won a $1.2 million grant from NASA to do research on teamwork training for the purpose of sending a crew of astronauts to Mars by 2030.

Psychology professors Eduardo Salas and Kim Jentsch along with Stephen Fiore, an assistant professor from the department of Philosophy, wrote a proposal to NASA in response to the space organization’s call about 3-4 years ago for researchers on team cohesion, and their group was one of the few chosen winners to receive funding for this project.

“Here at UCF, we are probably the world’s experts on teamwork, team performance and team training,” Salas said.

Helping the future Mars-bound team of astronauts help themselves while on their space trip is the main goal, said Salas and Jentsch.  Their concerns mainly consist of how the team of 5-7 astronauts is going to stick together. So far, they have interviewed 12-15 people that have been in the international space station for at least 3 months so as to obtain a better idea of teamwork needs. 

“You give them strategies so that they can self-correct any problems they have, that they can adjust what they are doing based on a number of probes or debriefing that we help them conduct,” Salas said. “This is all done by themselves on their way there.”

Jentsch agrees, and also said it’s not possible to train for everything that could go wrong, since the unknown gets in the way.

“They’re going to have to train a lot more people than they plan on sending,” Jentsch said. “They’re probably going to have a group of people and say ‘we’re going to select out of these 50.’ It’s kind of like Big Brother or Survivor; they’re going to get voted off one at a time, so it’s almost like training and a tryout at the same time to see who can get along with each other.”

The professors also work by telling NASA in what order it makes sense to train. For example, the astronauts can’t be trained right away to learn how to work the vehicle they are going to journey in, as technology is constantly changing, so there is no certainty as far as that is concerned. The three are trying to identify what they’re sure the astronauts need to know, such as team skills and regulation of stress.

To read more about the professors work with NASA, please click here.

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