The Astronauts and the ‘Nutella Incident’

Concept for NASA human Mars mission. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Their persistently cheery e-mail updates [from the crew in the Hawaii-based simulation] raise a question: Does a happy crew tell NASA anything useful? Binsted argues that upbeat blog posts don’t always tell the whole story. Small gripes often emerge in the post-study interviews, when subjects know that their replies will be kept anonymous. It was only at the end of one of the four-month food studies in the dome, for instance, that Binsted heard from everyone about the “Nutella incident,” in which a crew member arrogantly finished off the group’s monthly ration, reasoning that the team was scheduled to open a new bin the next day. Stuster’s work with isolated crews found many examples of trivial annoyances growing unbearable, such as complaints from one of Byrd’s Antarctic crewmen about another man’s “way of breathing, his belief in dreams, and his frequent use of the phrase ‘I’m sorry.’ ” Stuster’s latest study for NASA, on private journals kept by astronauts, fairly hisses in places with steam let off by astronauts irritated by overscheduling, by patronizing requests, and by pointless-seeming tasks coming from ground control, such as recording serial numbers on items of trash. In the Mauna Loa dome, crew members simply roll their eyes when Binsted’s far-flung volunteer assistants do something lame, like expecting an immediate response to an e-mail sent when everyone is still asleep, because the sender forgot that sMars, like Hawaii, is not on daylight-saving time. Binsted calls it “crew-ground disconnect,” and deals with the problem in ways that are summarized by her use of the term “mission support,” rather than “mission control.”

Tom Kizzia, writing in The New Yorker about how NASA is preparing its astronauts for the long-haul isolation and travel that a possible Mars expedition would require.

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