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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)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Behavior and performance
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

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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Task performance and analysis

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Data Information
Data Availability
Archiving in progress. Data is not yet available for this experiment.

Cognitive ability
Decision making style
Implicit coordination
Mental models, shared
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Ground 05/01/2009 In Progress
HERA Campaign 3 01/26/2016 10/19/2016 Four 30-day missions
HERA Campaign 4 05/06/2017 06/18/2018 Four 45 days One 23 days
HERA Campaign 5 02/15/2019 03/09/2020 Four 45 day missions

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
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:

+ Click here for information of how this experiment is contributing to the HRP's path for risk reduction.

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Jessica Keune
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2013-14 HERO NNJ13ZSA002N