Exploring the Effects of Communication Delays and Personality on Stress during Simulated Space Missions
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The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of communication delays and personality on stress levels during a simulated spaceflight mission. The study used an experimental, within-groups, repeated-measures design to explore these effects during a simulated Mars mission, specifically: (a) 1–3-second (s)(control)and (b) a 2-minute (min)one-way communication delay expected during the early transit phase of a Mars mission. The Big Five personality traits served as moderating variables and included extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. This study was developed and tested with participants analogous to an astronaut population: healthy individuals possessing or pursuing undergraduate degrees at the minimum junior-level standing, affiliated with the Florida Institute of Technology as either student, faculty member, or staff. Using the Re-entry space simulator (Wilhelmsen, 2018), subjects performed tasks in critical mission scenarios while in communication with the mission control center (MCC). A stress Visual Analog Scale (VAS) (Lesage et al.,2012) was administered before and immediately after each mission to measure perceived stress levels. Each pre-measurement was subtracted from a participant’s post-measurement, producing a Difference in Stress (DS) score. Objective measures of stress were collected throughout each mission using the Polar H10 heart rate monitor and were represented by scores on Baevsky’s Stress Index (SI).Two one-way repeated-measures ANOVAs were used to measure differences in stress (DS and SI scores)between control and delay mission for each subject, and a simultaneous regression was conducted to determine how much of the variance in stress scores was explained by the five personality factors. The findings revealed no significant differences between the control and delay mission for either stress variable. Possible reasons included mission length, level of delay, and how stress was measured. The findings from the regression analyses indicated that the Big Five personalities were not major predictors of DS and SI scores during the delay mission. Additional analyses revealed that neuroticism and LOC significantly predicted post-mission stress VAS and DS scores, respectively. Future studies should investigate longer mission times and incorporate a wider variety of stress measures. The inclusion of performance measures should also be recommended.