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Researchers Are Working With NASA To See If Comedians Help Team Cohesion On Long Space Missions

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: [R]esearchers have found that the success of a future mission to the red planet may depend on the ship having a class clown. “These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale,” said Jeffrey Johnson, an anthropologist at the University of Florida. “When you’re living with others in a confined space for a long period of time, such as on a mission to Mars, tensions are likely to fray. It’s vital you have somebody who can help everyone get along, so they can do their jobs and get there and back safely. It’s mission critical.” Johnson spent four years studying overwintering crews in Antarctica and identified the importance of clowns, leaders, buddies, storytellers, peacemakers and counsellors for bonding teams together and making them work smoothly. He found the same mixes worked in U.S., Russian, Polish, Chinese and Indian bases.

“These roles are informal, they emerge within the group. But the interesting thing is that if you have the right combination the group does very well. And if you don’t, the group does very badly,” he said. Johnson is now working with Nasa to explore whether clowns and other characters are crucial for the success of long space missions. So far he has monitored four groups of astronauts who spent 30 to 60 days in the agency’s mock space habitat, the Human Exploration Research Analog, or Hera, in Houston, Texas. Johnson, who also studied isolated salmon fishers in Alaska, found that clowns were often willing to be the butt of jokes and pranks. In Antarctica, one clown he observed endured a mock funeral and burial in the tundra, but was crucial for building bridges between clusters of overwintering scientists and between contractors and researchers, or “beakers” as the contractors called them.


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