Crewmember and Crew-Ground Interaction During International Space Station Missions (Interactions) - 10.11.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Weekly questionnaires are completed to identify and define important interpersonal factors that may impact the performance of the crew and ground support personnel during ISS missions. Results are used to improve the ability of future crew members to interact safely and effectively with each other and ground support personnel. The results may also be used to improve methods for crew selection, training and inflight support.
Science Results for Everyone
Can’t we all just get along? In a spacecraft, the answer is: we must. Researchers observed relations between ISS crew members and between crew and ground support teams in Houston, Huntsville, and Moscow . To no one’s surprise, differences were seen in mood and group perceptions between Americans and Russians, and between crew members and Mission Control personnel. In general, though, mood and social climate improved during missions, and researchers suggest that new strategies could enhance this adjustment. While greater autonomy is well received by crews, it causes more anxiety for mission control. As crew members become more autonomous, future studies could explore how this affects operations.

The following content was provided by Nick A. Kanas, M.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Nick A. Kanas, M.D., Veterans' Affairs Medical Center and University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States

Jennifer E. Boyd, Ph.D., Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, United States
Vadim I. Gushin, Ph.D., M.D., Institute for Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia
Olga P. Kozerenko, Institute for Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia
Charles R. Marmar, M.D., New York University Medical Center, New York, NY, United States
Vyacheslav P. Salnitskiy, Ph.D. , Institute for Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia
Alexander Sled, Institute for Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia
Daniel S. Weiss, Ph.D. , Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, United States

NASA Johnson Space Center, Human Research Program, Houston, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2001 - December 2002; April 2003 - October 2004

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
The research team performed a similar study during the Shuttle/Mir program in the late 1990s. That experiment examined the crewmembers' and mission control personnel's perception of tension, cohesion, leadership, and the crew-ground relationship. In those studies the greatest difficulty faced was tension felt by crewmembers, which could lead to negative interactions with ground crew and fellow ISS crew members. Since those studies, training is given to crew members to help them cope more positively with the stresses of physical and sometimes cultural isolation, which can happen when crew members are from different countries or speak different languages.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The objective of this study is to measure the impact of cultural and language background on space missions and to characterize changes over time in a number of important interpersonal factors, such as tension, cohesion, leadership roles, and the relationship between space crews and monitoring personnel on Earth.

  • This will be done during International Space Station missions by having the crewmembers and personnel in mission control answer a series of questions from a culture and language questionnaire (completed one time during pre-launch training), three standard mood and interpersonal group climate questionnaires and a critical incident log.

Isolated in the microgravity and vacuum of near-Earth orbit, ISS is a potentially dangerous place in which to work and live. Mission success and crew safety rely on the ability of station crews to communicate and get along with their fellows, regardless of their age, gender, nationality, or personal beliefs and preferences. It is also critical that the station crew has good interactions with members of ground operations.

The Interactions study recorded crew and crew-ground activities in an effort to fully understand group dynamics, individual psychological health, and factors that both hinder and help daily life on station. The study consisted primarily of a computerized questionnaire filled out weekly by crewmembers in space and by ground personnel at the NASA Johnson Space Center, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Russian Mission Control Center in Moscow. The questionnaire software included a series of questions from three standard mood and interpersonal group climate questionnaires as well as a critical incident log.

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Space Applications
Similar experiments were conducted on the Shuttle and Mir. The ISS studies are expected to yield information about the importance of language and dialect commonality and the relationships of crew heterogeneity and cultural comfort to crew tension and cohesion. Emphasis on culture and language is included on the ISS, where there are more international interactions. Identification and definition of these important interpersonal factors will lead to improved methods for crew selection, training, inflight support, and transitioning back to society. All of these will lead to more successful space missions.

Earth Applications
Results from this study could help to improve the behavioral performance of people living and working under similar isolated conditions here on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
A Human Research Facility (HRF) laptop hosts the Interactions questionnaire. Each questionnaire takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Answers are saved to the laptop hard drive and are periodically downlinked in encrypted files. Crew members also complete several weekly 20-minute questionnaires before and after flight. Ground operations staff included in the study must be in the mission-control environment for a minimum of three and a half days in the week prior to the data collection.
Inflight crew members will complete a computerized study questionnaire each Wednesday afternoon for the duration of the mission. Mission control personnel will complete the questionnaire on a PC on the same day, and send their encrypted files to the principal investigator. A paper questionnaire assessing cultural and linguistic background will also be administered to all subjects once during training.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

The Interactions experiment observed the day-to-day relations between the ISS crew and the ground support teams in Houston, Texas, Huntsville, Alabama, and Moscow, Russia. Data were collected over a period of four years during ISS Expeditions 2 through 9. ISS crewmembers and Mission Control personnel responded to questions from three standard mood and interpersonal group climate questionnaires (Profile of Mood States, Group Environment Scale, and Work Environment Scale) and maintained critical incident logs. The questionnaires used well-established psychometric measurements (measures of psychological variables; e.g., intelligence, aptitude, and personality traits).

Results were presented in two papers by Kanas et al. (2005) and Ritscher et al. (2005) at the 15th International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Humans in Space Symposium. Additional results have been presented in subsequent meetings and published forums. Previous studies of crew interactions (e.g. when U.S. crewmembers were added to the Russian space station Mir crews) identified important patterns of responses in interactions between and among crews and ground personnel. Not surprisingly, the investigation is also identifying differences in mood and group perceptions between Americans and Russians, as well as between crewmembers and Mission Control personnel. Additionally, crew activities (in particular, Earth photography ) were assessed as a mechanism for preserving crew health (Robinson, et al. 2006).

The early Mir results were replicated after ISS crewmembers were questioned and their responses analyzed. No purported mission "2nd half" performance deterioration effects (e,g,, 3rd quarter phenomenon) were noted in general (Kanas et al. 2006). In a related study by this research team, ISS crewmembers show evidence of an improvement in mental health as they adapt to the space working environment, mood and social climate improved over the course of the missions. There were some indication of displacement (perceived lack of support and faulting others) during stressful times. Mission Control teams were interviewed in order to examine major leadership challenges, impacts to mission management, and solutions to those challenges (Clement et al. 2006). Geographic separation and communication were identified as key challenges requiring continued effort to mitigate. Strong interpersonal relationships, communication and flexibility are critical for all leaders working ISS operations. Crewmembers also viewed leadership support, but not control or task role, as an important factor in team cohesion (Kanas et al. 2007). Post mission surveys of crewmembers were used to evaluate strategies to enhance crewmembers' inflight stress tolerance and postflight adjustment. Other factors, including cultural sophistication and language flexibility, were analyzed among members of both crew and supporting Mission Control teams, and while differences in these cultural parameters were noted between U.S. and Russian teams, and the crew and Mission Control teams (crews and Russian controllers exhibited higher scores on cultural sophistication) they did not appear to be related to mood and social climate variables (Ritscher et al. 2006), and no evidence was found, with both Mir and ISS, to support the notion that the degree of cultural sophistication would be associated with individual or group distress. One finding with the clearest implication for risk is the high level of work pressure reported among Americans, which persists despite having been somewhat lessened in the ISS program (Boyd et al. 2009).

Individuals who can adapt to the demands of an inhospitable or extreme environment can derive benefit from their experiences, a phenomenon known as salutogenesis. When a series of cosmonaut trainees recently underwent a challenging psychological stress test in an isolation chamber, most reported positive personal growth effects such as improved self-confidence. Evidence from prior work and new analyses also show evidence for this adaptation with ISS crewmembers. A better understanding of psychological adaptation and salutogenesis during space flight should help to develop strategies to enhance in-flight stress tolerance and post-flight adjustment (Ritsher 2007).

Individual communication style can be correlated to the profile of mood states (POMS) to reveal mood disturbances. Data suggest that crewmembers with similar POMS profiles had similar communication patterns. In a space flight the appearance of certain psychological complexities would become apparent both in POMS profile change and in communicative style change. It is shown that the analysis of the crew communication can be regarded as a new objective method of dynamic psychological monitoring of astronauts which allows for the diagnoses of negative changes in their psycho-emotional state (Kanas 2008).

Recent studies comparing high versus low autonomy for international partner crewmembers showed that high work autonomy was well received by the crew, mission goals were accomplished, and there were no adverse effects. During the high autonomy period, crewmember mood and self-direction were reported as being better but the mission control personnel reported more anxiety and work role confusion. Crewmembers working on future exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit will be more autonomous and less dependent on mission control direction and support than crewmembers engaged in an on-orbit mission. Little is known about how this autonomy will affect operations, and the ISS could provide a test bed for studies that explore this issue (Kanas et al. 2009).

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Results Publications

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Ritsher JB, Gushin VI, Weiss DS, Saylor SA, Kozerenko OP, Marmar CR.  Human interactions in space: ISS versus Shuttle/Mir. Acta Astronautica. 2006 July; 59(1-5): 413-419. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.02.007. [Also: Kanas, N, V Salnitskiy, J Ritsher, V Gushin, D Weiss, S Saylor, and others, ‘Human Interactions in Space: ISS Vs. Shuttle/Mir’,56th International Astronautical Congress, Fukuoka, Japan (2005). IAC-05-AI.5.02.]

    Ritsher JB, Kanas NA, Gushin VI, Saylor SA.  Cultural differences in patterns of mood states on board the International Space Station. Acta Astronautica. 2007; 61(7-8): 668-671. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.12.002. [Ritsher JB, Kanas NA, Gushin VI, Saylor SA.  Cultural differences in patterns of mood states on board the International Space Station. 56th International Astronautical Congress, Fukuoka, Japan; 2005 4 pp. ]

    Boyd JE, Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Gushin VI, Saylor SA, Weiss DS, Marmar CR.  Cultural Differences in Crewmembers and Mission Control Personnel During Two Space Station Programs. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2009; 80(6): 532-546. DOI: 10.3357/ASEM.2430.2009.

    Ritsher JB, Saylor SA, Kanas NA.  Do Psychological Decrements Occur During the 2nd Half of Space Missions?. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Valencia, Spain; 2006

    Robinson JA, Slack KJ, Trenchard MH, Willis KK, Baskin P, Ritsher JB, Olson VA.  Patterns in Crew-Initiated Photography of Earth From ISS -- Is Earth Observation a Salutogenic Experience?. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Valencia, Spain; 2006

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Boyd JE, Gushin VI, Weiss DS, Saylor SA, Kozerenko OP, Marmar CR.  Crewmember and mission control personnel interactions during International Space Station missions. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2007; 78(6): 601-607.

    Clement JL, Ritsher JB.  Operating the ISS: Cultural and leadership challenges. 56th International Astronautical Congress, Fukuoka, Japan; 2005 11 pp..

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Ritsher JB, Gushin VI, Weiss DS, Saylor SA, Kozerenko OP, Marmar CR.  Psychosocial interactions durring ISS missions. Acta Astronautica. 2007; 60(4-7): 329-335. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.09.001.

    Kanas NA, Gushin VI, Yusupova A.  Problems and Possibilities of astronauts -- Ground Communication Content Analysis Validity Check. Acta Astronautica. 2008; 63(7-10): 822-827. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2008.01.007.

    Kanas NA, Sandal GM, Boyd JE, Gushin VI, Manzey D, North RM, Leon GR, Suedfeld P, Bishop S, Fielder ER, Inoue N, Johannes B, Kealey DJ, Kraft NO, Matsuzaki I, Musson D, Palinkas LA, Salnitskiy VP, Sipes , Stuster JW, Wang J.  Psychology and culture during long-duration space missions. Acta Astronautica. 2009 Apr-may; 64(7-8): 659-677. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2008.12.005.

    Kanas NA, Ritsher JB.  Leadership Issues with Multicultural Crews on the International Space Station: Lessons learned from Shuttle/Mir. Acta Astronautica. 2005; ;56:932-936.. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2005.01.020.

    Clement JL, Ritsher JB, Kanas NA, Saylor SA.  Leadership Challenges in ISS Operations: Lessons Learned from Junior and Senior Mission Control Personnel. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Valencia, Spain; 2006

    Ritsher JB, Kanas NA, Ihle EC, Saylor SA.  Psychological Adaptation and Salutogenesis in Space: Lessons from a Series of Studies. Acta Astronautica. 2007; 60(4-7): 336-340. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.09.002.

    Ritsher JB, Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Gushin VI, Saylor SA, Weiss DS, Marmar CR.  Cultural and Language Backgrounds of International Space Station Program Personnel. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Valencia, Spain; 2006

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Weed WS.  Can we go to Mars without going crazy?. Discover. 2001; 22(5).

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Gushin VI, Weiss DS, Grund EM, Flynn C, Kozerenko OP, Sled A, Marmar CR.  Asthenia--does it exist in space?. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2001; 63(6): 874-880. PMID: 11719624.

    Kanas NA, Saylor SA, Harris M, Neylan T, Boyd JE, Weiss DS, Baskin P, Cook C, Marmar CR.  High versus low crewmember autonomy in space simulation environments. Acta Astronautica. 2010; 67: 731-738. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2010.05.009.

    Kanas NA.  Interpersonal issues in Space: Shuttle/Mir and Beyond. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2005; 76((6 Suppl)): B126-34.

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Grund EM, Weiss DS, Gushin VI, Kozerenko OP, Sled A, Marmar CR.  Human interactions during Shuttle/Mir space missions. Acta Astronautica. 2001; 48(5-12): 777-784. DOI: 10.1016/S0094-5765(01)00024-8.

    Ihle EC, Ritsher JB, Kanas NA.  Positive Psychological Outcomes of Spaceflight: An Emperical Study. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2006 Feb; 77(2): 93-101. PMID: 16491575.

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Grund EM, Weiss DS, Gushin VI, Kozerenko OP, Sled A, Marmar CR.  Human interactions in space: results from Shuttle/Mir. Acta Astronautica. 2001 August; 49(3): 243-260. DOI: 10.1016/S0094-5765(01)00103-5.

    Ritsher JB.  Cultural factors and the International Space Spation. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2005; 76(6 Suppl): B135-44.

    Kanas NA, Caldwell B.  Summary of research issues in personal, interpersonal, and group dynamics. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2000 Sep; 71(9 Suppl): A26-A28. PMID: 10993305.

    Kanas NA, Salnitskiy VP, Grund EM, Weiss DS, Gushin VI, Bostrom A, Kozerenko OP, Sled A, Marmar CR.  Psychosocial Issues in Space: Results from Shuttle/MIR    . Gravitational and Space Biology. 2001; 14(2): 35-45.

    Kanas NA, Harris M, Neylan T, Boyd JE, Weiss DS, Cook C, Saylor SA.  High versus low crewmember autonomy during a 105-day Mars simulation mission. Acta Astronautica. 2011; 69: 240-244. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.04.014.

    Uhlig T, Mannel T, Fortunato A, Illmer N.  Space-to-ground communication for Columbus: A quantitative analysis. The Scientific World Journal. 2015; 2015: 308031. DOI: 10.1155/2015/308031. PMID: 26290898.

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Related Websites
Life Sciences Data Archive
NASA Fact Sheet

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image NASA Image: ISS005E16806 - Scientists are studying how the crew interacts with others to learn more about how to prepare future spaceflight crews for long-duration flights.
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image NASA Image: ISS005E6055 - Expedition 5 flight engineers Peggy Whitson (left) and Sergei Treschev work with a laptop in the Destiny Laboratory on June 27, 2002. Crewmembers that participated in the Interactions investigation completed confidential questionnaires on a laptop, and then download the files to the ground-based investigators. The mission control crews completed similar questionnaires.
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image NASA Image: JSC2004E25790 - Expedition 9 crewmembers, ISS Science Officer, Michael Fincke (right) and ISS Commander, Gennady Padalka (left), using video and audio channels to communicate with Mission Control Center - Houston on 18 June 2004. Everyone is celebrating the recent birth of Fincke's daughter. The primary focus of the Interactions investigation is to improve communications between the support personnel and the expedition crew.
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