Team Task Switching in Astronaut Crews on the International Space Station: Integrating Multiteam Membership, Multiteam Systems, Multitasking, & Multidimensional Networks to Monitor & Enable Functional Work Shifts in Astronaut Crews (NNX15AK73G)
Moving beyond low Earth orbit and the relative safety of the International Space Station (ISS) toward near-Earth asteroids and Mars present previously unimaginable opportunities as well as organizational challenges. One significant challenge is the complexity of the operating environment within which astronauts will work. This complexity will place enormous demands on astronauts, and research is needed that develops concrete countermeasures to mitigate the risks stemming from performance decrements due to inadequate cooperation, coordination, communication, and psychosocial adaptation within a team.
Interviews with current and former astronauts as well as reports from astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) reveal the potential for decrements in crew performance stemming from difficulties in shifting back and forth between independent work and highly interdependent work. For example, ISS crews tend to work for extensive periods of time on independent tasks associated with research projects and other mission-related activities. However, these crewmembers are also expected to switch seamlessly and sometimes spontaneously to interdependent team-based tasks of high criticality and time urgency (e.g., Extravehicular Activity - EVAs, spacecraft maintenance).
Investigators define this as a problem of team task switching. Team task switching impacts the cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and performance effects that result when individuals respond to changing work demands within teams. Changes requiring members to switch tasks, switch teammates, and/or switch tools and technologies deplete attentional resources and make additional cognitive processing demands, which in turn affect the potential for adaptive and seamless task switching. Further, the multiteam structure of NASA requires individuals to regularly shift goal focus in response to dynamic situational requirements. Astronauts often work independently toward a goal, while at other times they work interdependently within a team, and at yet other times, they work as a part of a large system of teams. Hence, team task switching encompasses both lateral shifts that entail a change in one or more dimensions of work (e.g., task versus tool shifts) as well as vertical shifts that entail a change in the degree of interdependence (e.g., shifting upward from independent to interdependent work versus shifting downward from interdependent to independent work).
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Investigators are carrying out a multi-phase project to accomplish these objectives wherein they will (1) implement agent-based models based on theoretically derived hypotheses about the factors that influence adaptive task switching behavior and performance-related switching costs based on the dynamic interplay between independent and interdependent tasks, (2) use laboratory experiments conducted in two multiteam systems laboratories (one at Georgia Tech, the other at Northwestern) to empirically validate the theoretical propositions specified in the agent-based models, (3) revalidate the agent based models using unobtrusive data that capture information on task switching among ISS crewmembers, (4) identify effective interventions to enable adaptive team task switches by conducting “what-if” virtual experiments with the empirically validated agent-based model, (5) empirically validate intervention strategies using one of NASA’s space analogs, and (6) develop a dashboard decision aid.
This experiment is in progress. Results will be available at a later date.
Decision making style
Mental models, shared
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Performance, switch costs
Personality (five factor)
Portrait of values
Positive and negative affect
Task switching preference
Transactive memory systems
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health
and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration.
Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity,
and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors,
and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify
the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific
Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.
The Human Research Roadmap is located at: https://humanresearchroadmap.nasa.gov/
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for information of how this experiment is contributing to the HRP's path for risk reduction.