International Space Station
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, TX – 28 July 2015
Wright: Today is July 28, 2015. This oral history session is being
conducted with Al Holland in Houston, Texas, as part of the International
Space Station [ISS] Program Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca
Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson. We both thank you so much for
coming today and sitting down and visiting with us.
It’s my pleasure.
I appreciate that. You began in 1984 with NASA as a psychologist.
Part of what you did was to evaluate astronauts as part of the selection
process, but your duties certainly have changed and expanded throughout
the decades. Tell us what your current role is and what you are doing
for [the International Space] Station.
I’m a senior operational psychologist. That is a relatively
new term—operational psychology—because it has become
a new designation or new subcategory of psychology practice, and it
is all things which have to do with missions. These don’t have
to be space missions; it can be military missions or mission down
to the South Pole, but operational psychology is concerned with an
effective mission and the health and performance of the people on
that mission. It encompasses selection, training, in-flight support,
family support, in-mission monitoring, postmission repatriation. It
typically occurs in a time-bounded mission application. Lots of psychologists
from different backgrounds can do it, such as clinical psychologists
and industrial organizational psychologists, but the key is that you
are bringing in generic techniques from all these different fields
and applying these towards a more effective mission.
So, that’s my title. I started in ’84 looking at astronaut
selection, but also doing some flight controller selection and helping
to look at flight controllers and sort through the situations that
they had on hand at the time. I worked as a contractor for five years
with USRA [Universities Space Research Association], and during that
time there was also talk about having a Space Station Freedom. Part
of my job was to go out to the analogs of a long-duration space station
and learn about what we might expect, because frankly we hadn’t
done much. NASA had Skylab [Program], and that didn’t last as
long as they wanted Space Station Freedom—as it was called—to
I went to the military and the small groups who were deployed in the
military; I went to the polar people and looked at North Pole stations
and South Pole stations; I went to the undersea stations and the offshore
drilling rigs and all the different what are now called “analogs”
to long-duration flight. We wanted to learn what situations these
organizations had encountered, what problems do people have when they
go on long durations, and what should we consider doing for Space
Station Freedom. Of course, Space Station Freedom did not survive
into the future, but we had the opportunity to fly a single seat onboard
the Russian Mir station and at the time, that was going to be it.
It was going to be a single seat that Carolyn [L.] Huntoon was partly
responsible for negotiating with the Russians, and the flier would
be Norm [Norman E.] Thagard. That was on Mir-18. Through the process,
I began to interact with the Russians, and it afforded me an opportunity
to learn from the Russians and their past spaceflight experience.
Up to that time it was a closed society and there was no information
coming out on how they selected, trained, and conducted their spaceflights,
very little information. That opened the door for us to begin learning
from them and looking at their technique. Then, through the course
of the next seven Mir missions—because it turned from one seat
into a program—we were able to work with the Russians and support
our personnel. It was their vehicle, but we watched their organization
provide support and to understand the techniques that they used, and
share information, frankly. That was very instructive and prepared
us for ISS [Expedition] 1. The International Space Station inherited
some of those lessons.
Now the lessons learned on Mir were dark lessons, so to speak. It
wasn’t all light and airy. It was a very difficult set of missions
for our astronauts because Mir was in the final stages of its life,
and it was basically having a lot of integrity problems and falling
apart. Our intrepid astronauts did their time on Mir, and from those
lessons we went in expecting ISS to be more difficult than it was
from a behavioral health and performance point of view.
During this time I transitioned from a contractor into a civil servant,
and within a few years was able to start an operational section for
psychology and distinguish it from the research section of psychology,
because up to that time I was supposed to do all those things. We
added a psychiatrist and some other additional individuals at the
master’s level, like [Stephen T.] Steve Vanderark and some people
who’ve been around for a long time. They were instrumental in
kicking this off. Kelly [D.] Curtis was important at that time as
well and is still around with the Family Support Office. There are
a lot of key people that started then and continue now and so there’s
a great deal of experience in that group.
We gradually gained in size and capability. When ISS started [Christopher
F.] Chris Flynn was the psychiatrist here. He and I worked on ISS
1, and Walter Sipes was the psychologist on contract with I think
it was called Krug [Life Sciences] at that time, but Wyle Life Sciences
[Wyle Laboratories, Inc.]. Just gathered steam gradually over the
ISS itself actually is a phenomenal platform, just a phenomenal platform.
When you look at all the space platforms, flying machines, stations
that have been out there, it really tops the list in terms of a mammoth
international construction project that was successful—very,
very impressive from a technical point of view. The volume was quite
nice, which is important from the BHP [behavioral health and performance]
point of view, because volume affects people’s well-being. And,
unlike Mir, there were spares; there were duplicate parts; there were
redundant ways to communicate with the ground rather than no way to
communicate with the U.S. ground. It was just a leaps and bounds better
environment than was Mir or even Skylab. This was wonderful.
Currently, ISS is in probably the top of its arc in terms of a life
span. It’s a good time to be onboard Space Station. It’s
not toward the end of its life, and all the bugs are worked out on
the front end. It’s just a wonderful place for people who are
lucky enough right now to live and work aboard it.
ISS and long flight in general, starting with Mir, have been very
instrumental in promoting BHP and our group, our discipline—psychology,
psychiatry as applied to space life and work—because we really
do our best work in the context of long-duration missions and long-duration
That’s just a little bit about how we got into the ISS business.
You talked about the environment. Was your group involved in helping
to design some of the ISS environment for astronauts?
Not really, not really. We were in the meetings about acoustics and
vibration, and we had more of a role in the meetings about sleep stations
and eating areas. We were involved in that, but we weren’t steering
that; other people were really doing the steerage. We were just advising,
consulting, but we were more instrumental in the selection, training,
I learned that one of the things I abhorred as a young person was
very important in the long run—requirements and policies and
procedures. These things to me were always dry as dust. I learned
that the way you grow a discipline in an organization that has never
had such a discipline before is through gradual incremental steps,
but also successfully getting your needs into requirements documents
and having the procedures set up and having those approved through
control boards. That’s a key part of staying where you are.
Personally I learned a few lessons like that and as a group we learned
lessons like that which allowed us to continue.
Part of what we do still with ISS has assisted us in gaining ground,
and that is that our group provides on-orbit support in flight to
the astronauts. We’ll be sending up the news and TV [television]
shows, and in charge of getting care packages packed from home and
on the vehicles, and getting those up there. Like making sure that
if there’s a hockey game, any clips that were taken during the
game of the kids get up on orbit. All that’s been seen as very
positive and that allows us to sometimes sit at a table that before
we weren’t invited to sit at.
Because there is so much that you and your group do to take care of
that, maybe we could look at it this way and walk through from the
process of selection all the way until they get back home. For instance,
the selection that you were a part of to help choose astronauts for
[Space] Shuttle flights. Could you share with us how and when that
started to change, when you knew you were going to be looking for
people for long-duration flights?
Selection in and of itself is a big area, particularly in the soft
skills like behavior. Our role always has been and still is the front
door selection, which is taking all the applications and running them
through the front door before the person ever comes into the organization
and then becomes an ASCAN [astronaut candidate]. We aren’t involved
in assigning people to flights, we’re only involved in the front
door selection. That has changed a great deal.
What we learned from the analog environments was very, very helpful,
including Mir, and allowed us to understand the attributes that were
needed to do long-duration flight in a confined environment. Then
to get such a wonderful machine for them to fly on makes it even easier.
While you’re talking about analogs, what were those common threads
that you found in these—and I’ll use the word outpost—but
were there some?
Exactly. There are so many commonalities, it’s amazing, that
are transferable, as you saw with [NASA’s assistance in] the
 Chilean miner [rescue]. You can transfer learning from one
environment to another, because they’re very similar, things
like self-management. You want someone who has some proven ability
in managing themselves in difficult circumstances, in long confinement,
or deployments away from home or family. If they don’t have
that, you want to get closer in and see what challenging times have
they experienced, and how have they managed themselves and their relationships
with other people.
You want people who can work within teams. You want people who are
able to communicate with other people, who are able to repair fences,
and people who won’t put up too many fences in the first place.
You’re looking for good judgment. You’re looking for a
wide range of factors. There were about 10 factors that were guiding
us through the early days up until about now.
Things are beginning to shift in terms of how we select people. The
way you select people for short flights, like Shuttle, is very different
from the way you select people for long flights, like Space Station.
Some people are very good short-duration fliers but would not be suitable
for long flight. People who are suitable for long-flight typically
are very good short fliers. When ISS came along, initially it was
grandfathering in people from the Space Shuttle community. Some of
those were excellent long-duration fliers, and some were not. That’s
one lesson we learned from ISS—that some people are better at
short flights, and some people are okay at any type of flight.
We had basically a selection system that had a set of target competencies,
or proficiencies or attributes. They were ordered differently for
long flight or short flight. That way we were selecting people who
would be good flying Shuttle, but we also could identify people who
would be good for Space Station. We carried that forward for a number
of years, and then I guess around 2009, two cycles ago, a big shift
came in the way we selected. We started introducing more experiential
or behavior-based problem-solving scenarios into the selection process.
They had interviews and testing, but were also having these problem
solving scenarios they had to work through as a team.
The emphasis we learned was that we really need to push the team thing,
because we can get some very good individuals but some may not work
that well in a team. This is just based on working with the ISS over
a period of years. We introduced more team things, then in the last
two cycles that has grown. We now have a pretty significant behavioral
observation element which puts out these scenarios that applicants
must solve in teams and simulates some of the situations that people
have gotten into on ISS. We’ll rotate leadership and we’ll
vary the situations in different ways. They also have to maintain
a relationship with a ground base during this activity. They have
to maintain relationships within the team, as well as back at the
home base. That’s been a change.
Another recent change is we recently completed a job analysis on the
current ISS length (which is six months) out to Mars, that length
of a mission. We looked for the demands that these different mission
profiles place on individuals from the behavioral point of view, not
the technical point of view. We looked at six-month missions and shorter
in real time, we looked at 6-to-12-month missions in real-time communications,
then we looked at 12-month missions with lagged communications. Then
we looked at 36-month missions with lagged communications. The idea
was in the first category of six months and less, we are catching
the current ISS mission profile and its demands on individuals. With
the second which is 12 months, we’re catching what Scott [J.]
Kelly is currently doing and hopefully future people will do, which
is the one-year mission on ISS. Then we’re looking at the 12-month
comm [communications] lag, that is the long-distance asteroids with
a little bit of time lag in there but the same duration as Scott’s
mission; then the 36-month and what would be required to go to Mars.
It was really interesting because we did interviews with all the ISS
fliers that we could find, and they began by telling us what they
thought the differences were between these four mission profiles and
what the differences in people were needed, and what things these
people needed at selection which is the front door, and then what
could be trained. You see some really interesting things. You see
a big shift. Even though 12 months and real-time communication is
the same duration as 12 months and comm lag, there’s a big jump
when you lag your communications. It’s a big change in the kind
of traits that do better in those missions than in the first two missions.
The 12-month comm-lag mission looked very similar to the Mars mission
in terms of what was needed.
Interestingly, it helped us look forward because we can only see based
on experience how far we’ve been, so we only know from the U.S.
point of view up to six or seven months roughly. When Scott comes
back we’ll have a single point one-year person. Unless we get
more one-year people we won’t understand the 12-month scenario,
much less the 36-month. We’re having these people who’ve
experienced 6 months or 12 months put into the kitty what demands
are going to be made on individuals, and therefore what competencies
will be required for Mars. That’s where we’re pushing.
We’re trying to use ISS as a training platform for Mars for
us to learn about what we might as an organization and as BHP need
to do for Mars, as well as support it in real time.
The first years that you flew crewmembers on ISS, they were former
Shuttle fliers. Then when Peggy [A.] Whitson was chosen she was the
first nonflier to go, but Peggy did have some on the ground Shuttle-Mir
experience because she had gone [to Moscow] in those early days. As
you mentioned, you didn’t participate in the selection of crews
for missions, but you do contribute to who is selected as future fliers.
Also with Shuttle-Mir, if I remember correctly, there wasn’t
exactly a long line of people wanting to go to Mir.
Did you find that that changed when ISS opened and they were able
to stay long-duration there?
Oh yes, because it was a U.S. operation. These were U.S. crewmembers.
They had different expectations that were fulfilled because of the
nature of the Station, the nature of life on the Station. It’s
a remarkable platform compared with any platform before. Mir just
happened to be in the end of its life stage. It was, I’m sure,
better as a younger vehicle.
When you’ve watched members of the crew become formed—now
we’re past the selection and we’re into the training—how
are you involved in watching how they interact? How do you help make
sure that they’re able to work as teams off the ground as well
as they work on the ground?
We were excited to have pioneered the first expeditionary skills training
that we put forward in early ISS for ASCANS. Astronaut candidates
do get, even today, expeditionary skills training. We started that
off, and it was a three-day workshop. It’s gradually evolved
into something that is both instruction-based and also experiential-based.
We no longer control it. We’ve handed this over to the Astronaut
Office, [organizational code] to CB. The Astronaut Office now is in
the lead seat, and we just support them. To me it’s a wonderful
model, and it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to develop something—they
liked it, they take it, and then it takes off and it’s their
With the ASCANS we are exposing them to leadership, followership,
communication, small group living, self-management, some of the essence
of those things on expeditions. As you mentioned earlier, it doesn’t
have to be a space expedition. It can be a military expedition, it
can be an expedition down for six weeks to collect meteorites on the
ice in the South Pole. It can be NOLS, National Outdoor Leadership
School; it can be NEEMO [NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations].
It can be any of these expeditions. The idea was to use all these
analog training environments—NOLS is a part of it, NEEMO is
a part of it, and the meteorite thing is a part of it as well, the
geology field trips—to address the same set of expeditionary
Before they go out for a geology trip for instance, they’ll
have some instruction on, “This is what leadership and followership
is like in the field. This is what it looks like, this is why we’re
interested in it from a spaceflight point of view. This is what you’ll
see when you’re out there. Now go collect rocks.” Then
they go out there, they’ll be doing their geology thing, and
in the evenings they’ll have debriefs that are based around
these expeditionary skills. “What’d you see today? How
did that go? How did your team function? What could you have done
differently? What could someone else have done differently?”
Just make it a habitual thing that they always debrief the day of
the event. They always do it within this structure. It’s been
applied through NEEMO, it’s been applied in the National Outdoor
Leadership School, it’s being applied on ISS.
The idea is to train the ASCANS that these are important issues in
the functioning of a team rather than in your own happiness and your
own performance. Here’s how you can sustain that over time in
a field environment. So, expeditionary skills training is a big part
of ASCAN training. We also provide conflict management and stress
You think having conflict resolution is important in a tight environment?
I do. I think we could do it better though; I’m not happy with
the way we do it. Outside of expeditionary skills, training is a front
for us right now. That’s where we’re trying to revise
and upgrade, just as based on the job analysis we’re revising
and upgrading the way we select people this coming selection cycle.
We’re jumping into a different thing from the selection point
of view so that we can start seeding into the [astronaut] corps people
who might fly in 20 years. Similarly, we start our expeditionary skills
training with the ASCANS to build in the habits that in 15 or 20 years
will feel like second nature to them when they’re doing an expedition.
This is how long-duration missions and long-duration field settings
differ from the short ones like Shuttle—they’re qualitatively
as well as quantitatively different. You can get along with almost
anyone on a Shuttle flight and make the team work. It’s like
an elevator. You can ride an elevator since it’s a short amount
of time with just about anybody, but, if you were to live in that
elevator for two weeks that takes a little bit more work. If you’re
going to live in that elevator for six months that takes even more.
For the shorter missions, they’re very different qualitatively;
they’re not as stringent as the longer-duration missions.
You used a term that we’re all familiar with, leadership training.
I believe your other term was followership. Explain that to us and
why that’s an important element of this training.
It’s the flip side of the coin. We’ve got a bunch of strong
leaders, at least in their minds, when they enter the corps. They
have probably been leaders in other projects before they got here.
There’s a wide range in the military and in the science areas
that could say they’ve been leaders of different projects and
high achievers. They may not have thought through the importance of
followership, because clearly in a small-group team setting in the
field you don’t want five leaders. You want five potential leaders,
you want five potential followers. If there’s a designated hierarchy,
there’s a designated leader. But, everyone needs situational
awareness and there needs to be the ability to have situational leadership
and situational followership.
If the three of us are going on a long flight, you might be the assigned
leader. If there’s an area that I know real well, if I know
that particular hardware real well, then you might say, “Holland,
you take us through this.” Then I would need the leadership
skills to be able to say, “Okay, what I need is I need you to
be doing this, and you be doing this, and you hold this, and we’ll
do this, and this is how it comes out.” Then I need to have
the ability to fall back and to support her as the leader. Or, if
it’s your turn in the situation to be a leader in a particular
thing, I need to support you. I need to make sure you’ve got
all the information you need to do your job. If there’s something
I see and I’m not sure you’re seeing it because you’re
blocked off or you’re dealing with something else, I might bring
that to your attention. I might suggest things. So, it’s important
from a followership point of view that the followers feel it as a
role and know that there are specific jobs that go along with that
situational followership, but they need to be ready to swing into
a leadership mode and know that, and swing back. They have to be fluid
between the two, and that’s the way western small teams work
They also learn it’s an accepted role to not be a leader, and
that it’s not a bad thing.
It’s very valuable. It would be maddening to have five leaders,
everyone vying to be in charge.
I think we’ve all been in that situation before at some point.
Also, when Shuttle crews were being trained for missions, they knew
that the only interaction they were going to have would be the people
on the Shuttle and of course the ground crew. Now the way that the
increments overlap, there’s a lot of opportunity to be with
people you might not have worked with much. How do you prepare your
crews for that?
Good point. Very, very true. Very true. Station began by launching
whole crews and bringing back whole crews, which was the familiar
way with doing any mission. When the proposition came up that, well,
maybe they’ll start rotating and we’ll do half a crew
and then half crew—from the behavioral point of view we were
shaking our heads, “No, this is not a good thing. This is not
the way you get to know people and make adjustments for long flight.”
It was not as bad as we thought it was going to be; so, the dire feelings
we had were wrong. It’s not optimal, and the fliers tell us
it’s not optimal. They prefer getting to know people, launching
with them, but it’s doable. We learned also that things aren’t
black-and-white. Things aren’t optimal or nothing. There’s
doable in-between. Our experience didn’t prepare us to comment
on the doables. This was a new experience from ISS for us, which was
very helpful, to see that this can work and is not optimal maybe in
certain ways. If you need something to be optimal in those ways then
don’t do it this way, launch your whole crews. But, if you don’t
and you need the manpower and somehow you need some sort of circulation
there because of other reasons, you can make it work, and here’s
how you make it work.
It sounds probably trivial, but those were important lessons to us
to see. Now that widens the type of missions that we can support and
the type of situations you can support. If you’re thrust into
a new situation then you can say, “Well, I’ve seen a piece
of that over here and we’ve had experience with that. So I think
my estimate is this.” You can be pretty close. It’s been
a great lesson for us.
The decision to close down the Shuttle Program impacted a lot of the
fliers that were there. They were planning to be a part of a mission,
and now they couldn’t do it anymore. Share with us some of the
impacts of that decision with the crews and dealing with the chance
to fly now has minimized—something that they trusted, the transport
that they used, is gone.
We saw some repercussions from that. Everyone loved Shuttle. It was
a good machine, it was a brilliant machine, it was a phenomenal machine.
It was a good way to put people into a two-week cramped situation
with high ops [operations] tempo and accomplish a large number of
things in a short amount of time. Very task-oriented situation. That
was very appealing to people who like high-tempo operations, who like
adventure and like the diversity of moving through a series of missions.
Now, like you say, if you’re going to get a seat, it might be
eight years after you come into the organization before you’re
entertained for even getting a seat. Then three years to train for
that seat. It might be 11 years out of your selection from the front
door before you get to fly one. Then once that’s done, if you’re
going back in the pool you have to make a decision there, because
you’ve got another multiple years to wait until the next opportunity
to fly again. So what are you going to be doing in the meantime? It
has to be challenging enough to stay, you have to see the worth in
whatever it is you’d be working on to stay in order to get that
next flight. But, you’re not going to see multiple Shuttle flights.
You’re going to see maybe two flights in your career.
That greatly changes things for the organization in that you might
have some people who will be single-flight people, but that single
flight might be six months long. That did change their expectations
of the organization, and a lot of people left because they didn’t
want long flights in the first place. A lot of people just don’t
care for it. They want to drive something or they want to fly something,
so those people were disappointed.
Then you have those few that have gone up several times with long-duration
flights. Do you find that genre of astronauts to be somewhat in a
different category than the rest? Or is it just they’ve gotten
where they like to go, and they certainly are ready to go back?
They’re ready to go back, absolutely. We don’t make the
decisions about crew assignments, so I can’t really talk for
those people that make those assignments. The people that do sign
up to go on multiple flights clearly like spaceflight, and you’ve
met them. They’re people that love being in space. You can’t
drag some of those folks out. There are many, but people like [Donald
R.] Don Pettit and Peggy Whitson and [Jeffrey N.] Jeff Williams are
just people that have thoroughly enjoyed their time on orbit, and
they have living situations at home that allow them to do that. They’re
very fortunate, and they know they’re very lucky to do that.
They have independent self-sustaining families and spouses.
I think the limitations are going to be physical. It’ll be radiation.
We’re learning more and more about the changes in the body,
like intraocular changes, and perhaps we have a hint of some structural
brain changes in terms of the white matter changes. That is somewhat
in our area because we deal with cognition, and we’ve had from
time to time reports of “space fog.” That’s what
they would call it. Or memory impacts, short-term memory problems.
Wasn’t problematic, they would get out their paper and pencil
and make a list—sort of the way I live every day. But, these
are younger people and didn’t do that pre-flight so the space
fog issue has eluded us, the large us, in understanding that, and
I think that reflects how little we understand about the brain and
cognition in general. I think going forward that’s going to
be a big push, to understand these more subtle changes from long flight.
You don’t see effects in everyone of course, but I think there
will be some lessons learned that in three, four years we’ll
be able to say we learned these from ISS about cognition. It’s
also spurring us to change the on-orbit onboard cognitive battery
that we have, which is actually designed to detect post-trauma cognitive
decrements or post-event cognitive decrements. The event or the trauma
might be hypoxia, it might be a head concussion, it might be a toxin
release from a payload, it could be anything like that. Now we need
something that does that but also a battery that will detect subtle
fluctuations in cognitive abilities, not just due to potential pressure
changes within the neural system, but also due to sleep deficits.
If we can detect these subtle things then we’re even better
at doing prevention and anticipating problems that will occur later
on. We’re looking for a change in the tool so that we can intervene
earlier and preventively rather than reactively.
I would say that the cognitive capability detection onboard, the way
it is now, represents the old way of looking at things, which is rather
blunt. If something happens to you we have a way of detecting whether
or not you’re fit for duty to continue on, or whether you need
another week’s rest or we need to bring you home. That’s
a blunt instrument to the whole cognitive issue. A finer instrument
is something that can do that, but that can also tell you that yes,
you’re a little bit down, you’re a little bit off today.
Now you normally will go up and down, that’s normal, but today
you happen to be off on working memory to the extent that when you
get to this level we see interference in fine motor control. So, this
wouldn’t be a good day for you to be grappling a satellite.
That’s a finer instrument. I call that step forward fashion.
I’d say ISS is directly the reason why we’re able to move
forward with our tools and why we’re pressing forward with tools
and spending the resources and the time to do it, is because of what
we’re learning on ISS that will apply to Mars flight when you’re
three years in space. It’s interesting to watch.
Based on what you’re saying, how my brain visualized it, was
to actually see the real impacts on benefits for Earth as well, when
you get those instruments fine-tuned.
Very much so. Once they’re developed and fine-tuned you very
much could use that. We’re even toying with the idea of instead
of improving your cognitive functioning with medication if for some
reasons you needed to do that, instead add to the array of things
that could intervene. Adding to the countermeasures might be certain
videogame-like exercises that you could do, which do in fact show
that it will improve your reaction time, your working memory, or whatever
it might be. We’re beginning to look at that next step, which
is even further out, which is “Okay, we can detect this. Can
we intervene nonmedically, like a drug? Is that possible?” It’s
an interesting progression of technology.
I just want to say one last thing. As we move toward Mars, different
demands are going to be made on those people; they need to be slightly
different people since Mars flight is going to be a much more autonomous
flight. There will be less opportunity to get help from the ground
because of the communications lag. We’re trying to also push
our technologies into their hands so that they are expected to solve
their own problems. They will be expected to manage themselves individually,
and they’re expected to manage themselves as a team. We’re
not going to do it for them. Rightfully so, they should say, “Well,
how can you help us do this?”
We’re trying to develop the tools that we’re currently
using in a more diagnostic or reactive way. We’re trying to
push all that over into a form that the crew can use so that when
the three of us go we have not only been trained to maintain ourselves
in the team, but we have tools onboard which are for that. I can tell
if my cognition is way off, and if it’s way off I’m going
to say, “You better do the whatever it is today, because I can’t
do that today.” Make them more responsible for the decisions
about whether they do something or do not do something, and what they
When they come back, especially since some of them have gone and come
back several times, are they providing additional information for
you to help the next group? For so long many had that thought of,
“I can’t tell the doctors anything because then I won’t
be able to fly again.” Now they have an opportunity to help
build that foundation for those next 15, 20 years out from now.
From my viewpoint we’ve been successful at gaining ground in
terms of the trust relationship. We are regularly consulted from space
during PPCs [private psychological conferences] and just by IP [internet
protocol] phone and by e-mail about different issues. Some of which
are onboard, some of which are individual, some of which are on Earth,
because they’re connected with their families and things are
I think that’s positive. We seem to get—not with everyone,
but with most people—a pretty honest debrief post-flight. We
do that in the first three days following a flight. We have one at
three days, we have one at ten days, we have one at two weeks. Within
the first three days following a flight people are a little hot; that
is they’re still available, the emotions are still as they were
when they were on orbit. After three days people, “cool off”
and put back on the hat that they normally wear around the office;
they become re-normed [normalized] to ground. But, in the first three
days if there was an issue, they’re still ready to tell you
about it. If there are any emotional feelings about things, they generally
seem to be willing to tell you then. We try to catch them in that
In general people have been apparently quite open with us, but we
don’t expect them to be 100 percent open. There are journals
for those things that don’t go to us. There are private conversations
with families that we set up, and we screen and we vociferously lobby
against any interference in that because people need different forums
to talk about different things.
While we’re talking about on flight, just to compare, when Shuttle–Mir
had the small time in history, one of the biggest things that was
missing was communication on Earth with their families. When ISS started,
it’s gone so much further. Talk about the impact of how much
that’s improved the environment for the crewmembers to know
that they have such an accessible link to what they need and who they
want to talk to on Earth.
It’s pretty remarkable when you have people who have flown on
Mir, say [C. Michael] Foale, who flew on ISS. In general people say,
“Well, it’s very, very different. It’s better.”
But the idea that you can communicate with ground—I remember
with some of the Mir fliers that they would have to do their PFCs,
their private family conferences, over ham [amateur] radio, which
is not private at all. It’s just a family conference, and the
whole world hears it. It was short because you had to be within shot
of the pass. It just wasn’t through the Russian ground control.
They liked that connection and they were able to use that connection,
so that was the mainstay of their connectivity with home and it’s
really isolating. It isolates somebody to not be connected with their
spouse, their usual social supports, their friends.
Connectedness is a big deal. I’m thinking Mars right now, but
you’re going from Mir. We can think about Mir and see the negative
impact that lack of connectedness and lack of a supporting infrastructure
had on those fliers. We can look at ISS as a step between, because
ISS goes to multiple redundant methods of communication. I can e-mail,
I can text, I can tweet [Twitter social media platform], I can get
on the IP phone, call any number on Earth that I wish at any time
that I’m able to do that. There are multiple IP phones so multiple
people can be on at the same time. There’s the biweekly audio/video
conference with the family. There’s lots of ways to communicate.
Some people have said, “I don’t need that much communication.
My family doesn’t do that. Me and my spouse have been deployed
before and this is the way we do it. I don’t need that here
and I don’t need that, I’m just going to use this,”
and been very happy with it.
It’s like a buffet. You go to the cafeteria and you’ve
got several types of salad, you’ve got several types of entrees,
and you’ve got your vegetables, and you’ve got your desserts.
You go along with your tray and you can pick whatever you like. That’s
what we try to do. We try to set up a buffet of on-orbit support that
they can then tailor to their own desires and that of their family,
and that they can change up and down during the course of the flight
depending on the course of the flight. Multiple redundant ways of
communicating have been very important on ISS. We think about Mars
and we think about the importance of connectedness. We don’t
want to take a step back and have a Mir experience going to Mars.
We want to have learned that we need to incorporate connectedness.
It’s healthy for the fliers, the fliers like it. It’s
going to be harder to do because of the communication lag, but we’re
exploring things like virtual reality sets on both ends. We’re
exploring a wide variety of ways to allow one end or the other, the
family end or the crew end, to keep up with what’s going on
in the environment on the other end.
I don’t think we can have too much of that in the Mars arena
because there are going to be so many limitations on connectedness.
It is possible to have too much connectedness in the ISS world. In
our preflight training we do caution against that and try to assess
whether someone has the inclination, or the family member has an inclination
that there needs to be a whole lot of connectedness, so that the crewmember
cannot keep their head in the game on orbit—because that would
be unsafe if they were not able to do that, and they would be unhappy
if they were not able to do that. You need a balance of connectedness
and disconnectedness. For Mars we don’t have to worry about
having too much connectedness.
They have so many to choose from. They have their family, then they
have ground support, then they have the medical team. How do you train?
Can you share with us some of the process? For instance getting the
family ready to deploy their crewmember for being gone six months.
How does your team help them prepare for that space of time?
First of all we try to select people who’ve already had that
experience and who have successfully had that experience. After that,
it’s the short deploys for training during their ASCAN time,
their unassigned time. We have annual exams with all the fliers. It’s,
“How’s it going, how did that deployment go? You were
away for six weeks, how did the kids do during that time because they
were in school, did your spouse do okay at home, did they have help
from family members, who’s nearby, what’s the relationship
We try to both raise their awareness of how they can build that infrastructure,
as well as see if there’s any way we can help them build that
infrastructure. They’ll do that during the annual exams. Also
when we’re with them on training activities, we will continue
to not only ask about that, but to talk about how other crewmembers
have supported their families and the different styles that families
have in getting ready to fly and separating. We’ll do that with
the crewmember. Then, once they’re assigned to a flight, we
not only have regular training with the crewmember about some of these
things, but we also meet with the families about this. With the families,
we cannot require them to come into training. We set up optional training
and they’ve all accepted that. But, we also set up some informal
times pre-flight and during the flight where we get together for coffee
or breakfast offsite somewhere and just talk about, “Well, here’s
some things you might want to consider as you’re preparing for
flight, here’s the way people have done it in the past.”
Again, it’s taking our postflight debrief lessons learned from
fliers, rolling it back into the next flight. We’ve always done
that. We always have postflight debriefs. We always roll that back
into the next flight so that as the lessons accumulate we then pass
that to the family, pass that to the crewmember. “If you’ve
got kids that are young, this is the way families that have real young
kids have managed separation, have managed coming home,” because,
that’s a whole other kettle of fish, when you come back home.
“Here’s how families with grown kids have handled it,
and there are three different ways.” Then give them those opportunities
and they can tailor it to their situation.
I know you don’t have any control over who gets selected as
crewmembers. I have to assume you don’t have any control over
who gets chosen as ground support. Are there training packages that
you help the crewmembers learn how to deal with the ground crew, as
far as the work and how they get along?
That’s part of our training for the crewmembers. We also do
briefings for flight directors, and we’re also involved in Spaceflight
Resource Management, SFRM, which is training that all the flight controllers
go through. We have a finger in a lot of pies, but it’s not
always a big finger, sometimes it’s small.
I was just curious, because no one ever sees tension. I have to assume
there has to be some tension sometimes coming from flight crews, going
back and forth.
Absolutely. There’s a classic disconnect between remote teams,
not just in space but military, pole, climbing teams, ballooning teams,
boating teams, and their home base. It’s just a classic disconnect.
They see different worlds, and they have different priorities. It’s
built in. Ground will see the world one way, ground will have certain
goals. Then the crew or the remote team sees things differently. Sometimes
tension can develop between the two just because of the distance.
We’ve found that flights that had audio-only comm between crews
and ground had more difficulties than flights that had audio/video
between crew and ground. It was the video aspect that allowed them
to have more information and could read intent from the other person.
“Is this person really a bad person?” Or, “Well,
I kind of like that person.” It has a way of softening tension.
That’s been good.
It’s been a constant lesson learning and a constant lesson application
for you since actually you’ve been here.
Yes, it’s been great. It’s wonderful to learn things.
Can you talk about the difficulty of when crewmembers come back and
how your team helps them to adjust, especially maybe those crewmembers
who know that that was their final flight, and how they tend to transition
into ground-based assignments and/or to a new adventure that they’re
moving on to.
We do brief them pre-flight, and the families, about post-flight.
We talk about homecoming. We also send them a set of briefing charts
before they come back, before they deorbit. We’ll send the same
set of charts to the family as to the crew. Those charts reiterate
the lessons that we were talking about on the front end. That information
primarily came from the military, the chaplaincy, and a lot of the
interventional behavioral people from deployment centers within the
military who were very generous in providing us with information about
deployment back in the earlier days. I was telling you I went around
to all these different analogs to learn about how they selected, trained,
repatriated people. They were very generous with that, and still are
involved and helpful to us as they learn more. That information is
tried and true and applies to any field setting where people are coming
When they come home they and their spouse have had the same teaching.
We do that so that we’ll get all the issues out on the table
ahead of time. Even if it’s not an issue, they can say, “Well,
that doesn’t apply to us and this doesn’t apply to us,
but well, this maybe.” All their issues are out there rather
than waiting for people to get back, and when things can get tense
and then somebody says something in anger. Get all the issues and
prediscuss them a little bit, even if they’ve never experienced
a long deployment, it at least alerts them to some of the issues that
past crews have had and past military organizations have had, and
some solutions to those. For instance, one of the pieces of advice
is don’t make any major decisions about your life right after
you get home. Let the heat cool a little bit and let everyone get
back to normal and reestablish relationships, and then start talking
about changes you might want to make in your life, major changes.
If someone has had their last flight or they think they may have,
don’t make that decision right away, but give it a little time,
and then discuss it.
That’s been helpful I think. There have been people who have
made those decisions, but they’ve been very good about waiting.
We haven’t had anybody rush right into it. It’s easy to
do, it’s seductive because you’re ready to move on to
something else. When you come back after being in a high-tempo operational
setting, coming back to an office environment is not particularly
satisfying. It’s like you’re flying along at Mach 3 and
then you hit the molasses. Then you’re back to, instead of getting
all this attention even from groups like us, you’re on your
own now. You’ve got to readjust back to being a regular person
like you were before.
There is some adjustment at work as well as at home, both for the
individual and for the family member. The spouse in particular, but
the kids too. Spouses often have picked up new roles while the flier
is away. For instance, maybe now the husband at home is able to do
more things with the kids than he did before the flight, because he’s
been a single parent for the first time and likes parts of that and
wants to hang on to that. The flier comes back and she’s ready
to reassume some of those, and there may be differences in expectations
about the roles. That’s typically the problem you have.
If you’re going to have a problem, that would be the problem
when people come home, that their expectations are misaligned. The
flier is either assuming they’re going to pick up new roles,
or is assuming that the person at home is going to keep some of those
roles, or he or she doesn’t want to pick up those roles again.
The same with the person at home. They’ll either assume that
they’re going to go back to the old things, and they can’t
wait for the flier to get home, because I’m going to hand this
stuff off, or “I like this, and you’re not going to have
this back.” It’s that misalignment between spouses that
At what point do you not see that flier as part of that mission anymore,
but just back in the routine? You talked about having a three-day
debrief. At what point do they move out?
Thirty days is our last one. Because of the improved exercise capability
on orbit, they’re coming back in much better shape now from
ISS than they did in early ISS or Shuttle or anywhere else. That’s
made a big impact on their physical ability when they get back. They
can drive earlier. If you can drive earlier, you don’t have
as many vestibular issues, and you’re not as degraded muscularwise,
so you’re able to get back into the gym. This all is mood-elevating
and it’s more normalizing for you. They get back into the swim
a little bit faster with fewer problems, more energy than they did
Used to be there was a fair amount of lag between the time they get
back to their baseline physically, and the time that they feel motivated
and energetic again. It would take much longer to get their old energy
and motivation back. That seems to be shortening now, and I think
a lot of it has to do with the exercise that they’re getting.
They’re coming back fit, sometimes better than they left.
We’ve talked about the crews and the families and the ground
crews. But we’d like to spend some time talking about you and
your support crew, because I was just thinking that’s rewarding
for your folks to be able to see some of the improvements that you
all have been trying to do. Talk with us about what you and your group
do for instance when crews are in flight. Are you constantly on call?
Is there a person that’s assigned to a person or is it a crew?
How are you set up to help?
How are we organized? Just let me say before that that we do have
a clinical function that’s in place at all times. Any flier
or their dependent can come in and can talk to us informally or formally,
and also to the Employee Assistance Program, which is part of our
extended group, and/or get a referral somewhere. We’ll see them,
we’ll see a family member. That’s always there underlying
all this other that we’ve been talking about which is nonclinical.
It’s more oriented toward adaptation and adjustment.
Basically the way we assign it is we assign one psychologist and one
psychiatrist to each flier currently. If Kjell [N. Lindgren] is going
to fly he’ll get one psychologist and one psychiatrist assigned
to him. He’ll also have a support person assigned to him from
BHP, a psychological coordinator, and that person is the person who
will make sure that they have an onboard webpage, and that they get
the clips from home, and that family conferences are scheduled at
the right time. They’ll have that, then that person usually
has a backup as well. The psychologist and psychiatrist function in
slightly different roles. We’re both responsible for their on-orbit
health and adaptation, slightly different perspectives, but we’ll
both be involved in private psychological conferences. We’ll
back each other up. If I have to leave town or am out, then the psychiatrist
can do that. If both of us are out then we have another set of one
psychiatrist and one psychologist who can roll in as well.
We are sort of on-call all the time, in that frequently we’re
called at odd times because there’s something happening, and
that’s fine, because it doesn’t happen all the time. It’s
not like a hospital where you get a lot of calls if you’re on
call. It’s much less frequent. We tend to be available for calls
at all times. Typically if we go somewhere we have our BlackBerry
[wireless devices] and people can reach us by BlackBerry if we’re
way out. If we’re so far out as sometimes we are where we don’t
have phone coverage, then that goes back to our counterpart back at
home. There’s always somebody back in Houston.
The folks that do the in-flight support have been really critical
to this operation. They have seen things evolve, often driven by technology
changes. Technology improvements, we try to ride those. If Twitter
is now the thing, we try to have Twitter onboard. If Internet access
is important, we were important in helping get that done. We try to
ride the technology and push new technology within the organization.
There are a lot of people outside of our group within the organization
that keep their eye on that too. We’re always trying to capitalize
on new technology to improve connectedness. I think they will have
seen a lot of change over the years in the way we do things and improvements
with things. It’s remarkable. Crewmembers now can get 55 TV
stations. They just need to let us know four days in advance what
they want to watch. There’s in fact a TV guide on their webpage,
so they can actually go to that part of their webpage and they can
look down and say, “Oh, well I’d like to watch A&E
Sherlock Holmes on Friday night.” They can reserve that and
it’ll be sent to them. There are things that you can do with
real-time communication environments that you won’t be able
to do for Mars. All those things will go away that present the challenge
for the future.
I think these folks have seen a lot of change in their area. I’ve
got to say that BHP approaches the issue of operational effectiveness
and health in a systems way. It’s very much a systems approach.
We look at selection, we look at training, we look at in-flight support,
we look at in-flight monitoring, and we look at family support all
as pieces of a puzzle which together link and are synergistic and
create the outcome we want. No one group could do it alone. You really
need them all.
You need an effective selection, you need an effective training, you
need an effective in-flight support, you need the families onboard,
you need to be keeping your eye on the families, supporting them,
and you need to be light on your feet so you can change directions.
If you do that in a systems way you can have very good outcomes. If
you do not—we’ve seen organizations who have not done
that—they will not get the outcomes. I think the systems approach
is one reason we’ve had good success in applying behavioral
principles and behavioral disciplines to long-duration spaceflight.
Along the way, if I’m correct in remembering, NASA has helped
other organizations by doing studies. Like prior to when you went
to Chile you sat down with your group, and everybody exchanged ideas.
You looked for those ideas and you pulled those ideas together. Then
other times possibly outside groups have had ideas. How do you pull
that information together to help formulate what you want to do in
the future to make improvements and make enhancements?
We are not hesitant to say, “Hey, we don’t fully understand
this genetic thing. We need to bring in some people that do.”
We’ll go tag three people and say, “Hey, can we get a
day and a half of your time and come in and tell us about that?”
That’s an important way to do that. I think if you’re
not open to that then you’re going to miss something. You’re
going to miss a new technique, going to miss a new concept, a new
model. You’re going to miss something in your own operation
that you’re not seeing correctly. It’s real important
to have that coming through from the outside.
In the past we used to have to pretty much exclusively rely on that,
and exclusively rely on our relationships with counterparts in the
military and in the polar services and internationally, in the French
Space Agency [CNES] and the French polar services. We used to have
all those contacts very warm, and feeding information back and forth
and getting new ideas. But we used to rely exclusively on that.
Now we’re able to use those, but we have a BHP research function
which is an entirely different organizational unit than BHP operations.
I’m from BHP operations, and BHP research are the folks that
are thinking way out there. What their job is, is to fund principal
investigators in studies that fill gaps in our knowledge and reduce
our risks in different areas as far as going to Mars. In BHP a risk
might be the risk for depression beginning on a Mars trip. How do
we best address this risk? Do our current techniques work? Well, we
don’t have real-time communication, so we’re not going
to be able to take calls on a real basis. How do we do that? We need
to develop something they can have on orbit, or we need to develop
a system, a training package plus something they have on orbit. How
do we do that? Do we use VR [virtual reality]? What do we put onboard?
Then they will go out and they will fund a principal investigator,
one or many, to do research in those areas, and come back and say,
“Well, we’ve done lit [literature] research. We’ve
done actual research in the lab [laboratory]. We’ve tested our
tool or our theory in HERA [Human Exploration Research Analog] over
here, and we’ve tested on NEEMO and other analogs. We think
this is the best thing. Here’s the data we have. If you’d
like to apply it to ISS or to Mars then this is what we recommend.”
We have that function now which we didn’t have before, which
is a boon for us. It takes us out of the job of having to go out and
constantly actively develop new ideas from other people. But, there’s
no replacement for talking to other operational people in these other
environments and just hearing their anecdotes and hearing their rules
of thumb and saying, “I tried this on this kind of person, and
boy, the narcissists really float to the top.” Those are the
sort of things that then you can decide to try out or not. Having
the research function available, which is Lauren [B.] Leveton and
Laura [J.] Bollweg and their team, has just been invaluable. Our relationship
with them continues to grow closer and closer so that we are able
to have more input into what they’re doing in research, and
we’re able to drive some of the basic research questions a little
bit more operationally than before.
That’s great progress, being able to keep that in house, but
yet it still spills out.
Yes, it’s really amazing. In fact I think they report to [William
Other professionals have annual meetings or conferences. Do you guys
that are involved in the analog groups get together and trade all
There’s AsMA, the Aerospace Medical Association conference every
year, which gets a lot of these people together. Then there are other
specialty conferences like the industrial operational psychologists
who will have conferences, or the clinicians will have conferences.
The military may host certain conferences; it’s become somewhat
We used to have a regular meeting that I organized back when I was
slumming through all the different analogs, which was Special Applications
of Psychology, we called it. Anybody that was in an unusual analog
environment had very small n, or very few people, very elite mission-oriented
situation, we could get together. It was a very small group at first.
It was 3 people started it, and then we grew to 6, and then 9, and
12. These were people from all these different analogs and we would
meet annually. We would just rotate around. Sometimes we’d meet
at the Navy’s place, sometimes our place. It grew, it got larger
and larger and larger, and it grew too large and was co-opted by a
lot of the national security people and questions and issues. It drifted
off into that arena and subsequently became a national security psychology
conference, which doesn’t have as many helpful things in it
as it used to. It used to be helpful but not so much now. We don’t
have currently a regular conference for operational psychologists.
That’s interesting all by itself.
Yes. There’s so many tendrils out there.
From the time you started in ’84, but actually once ISS got
up and running, have there been some major policy decisions that certainly
were out of your hands, but definitely impacted how you and your operational
group did your work? We mentioned a while ago about the overlapping
of increments, and how you had to rethink some of that. Of course
the Shuttle Program closing down, everyone going up on the [Russian]
Soyuz [crew spacecraft]. But are there others, even politically? We’ve
had that issue many times coming up in the news media about the situation
with Ukraine and the Russians, and how it’s caused tension on
Earth but yet the International Space Station seems to keep rolling.
Those factors that you have no control over but yet you have to help
the astronauts move through those situations.
Like the 9/11 [terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York
City on September 11, 2001]. You talked to Frank [L. Culbertson, NASA
astronaut in residence on ISS on 9/11/2001]. There have been family
members of astronauts who have died while they were on orbit. There
have been events, geopolitical events or individual family events
that have occurred—we’ve learned lessons from these that
we couldn’t have learned without ISS. We need someone on orbit
in order to learn about on orbit, and to learn about their families
back at home.
Those things did teach us some things; 9/11 taught us the need for
video news versus text-based news. New York Times [newspaper] was
text-based, and CNN [Cable News Network] is video-based. We learned
the value of video following disasters, floods, those sorts of things
as a way to give the crewmembers information in a way that satisfied
the crewmember. Video is much more effective, not excluding text,
but in addition to text.
We learned that. We also learned from 9/11 that when things happen
on Earth that are very personal in nature—and some crewmembers
on orbit lost people in 9/11—the crewmember’s response
besides grief is typically helplessness, and this feeling that, “Wow,
I should be assisting, I should be comforting the family, I should
be attending this, I need to be talking with these people, I need
to be supporting other people.” It’s that sense of inability
to do that, that helplessness feeling, that now we’ll brief
into our packages. That if something happens to a brother or whatever,
then you are likely to feel that, and here’s what we’ll
do. We’ll open up the comm channels. We’ll provide video
back to the services. We’ve done that. We’ve provided
the ability for a spouse to carry an iPad into a service and have
the crewmember be able to participate actually real-time to see the
service. Things like that are very important. It’s very important
to feel connected at times like that. Other times it’s less
important to feel connected. We did learn some things from 9/11 and
from deaths of family members that were very important.
Geopolitically, we’ve learned that no matter what’s going
on on Earth typically people know that they’ve got to live with
each other on orbit, so they will be on their best behavior. It’s
not likely that someone will bring up an issue in an insensitive way
or a blunt way. It has happened, but typically there’s a sensitivity
about that and an understanding, intuition that there are ramifications
if we open up this particular box of worms.
We’re not asking for specifics, but talk about how they deal
with issues or tense times on the Station and you have to help them
work through that as well.
Yes. I think not everyone, but a significant portion of the folks
are ready to come back when they come back. It seems like four months
seems to be the optimum length of time on orbit. People like four
months. At four months, they’re still having a great time and
they feel like they’ve contributed and they don’t feel
like they’ve missed too much on Earth. They can do six, and
they do do six. You push them on out, and they do six, and they’re
fine, and they’ll come back. If they could have just pulled
a handle and flown back, it would have been at four probably.
There are some people that when you get to six you’re dragging
them out by the feet though because they would prefer to stay in there,
and they’ll tell you, “If I could bring my family up here
we would just stay here indefinitely.” That’s a little
bit individual, but yes, there have been times when people are homesick
and we saw this on Mir as well. If there’s a connectedness it
can resolve, and we’re able to resolve it. I want the individuals
to resolve things as much as possible without outside interference.
We try not to get in their knickers too much. We try to set up the
thing proactively and establish conditions that allow an individual
and their family to repair themselves or to work through homesickness
or grief or tension or what there might be, rather than intruding
first. They do know we’re available. We have helped people through
difficult times and still do that, but we don’t jump in. I think
that’s an important aspect of this. You don’t want to
bother people. You want to be seen as a resource and a positive one.
You don’t want to be seen as a thorn in their side or intrusive.
That’s been fairly successful.
There have been people who have wanted to come back earlier and wished
they came back earlier. Sometimes that’s pushed by events within
the family. Someone’s having difficulties; maybe a teenager
is having difficulties. A crewmember might be concerned that, “Well,
I really need to be there, I wish I were there.” You start getting
a little bit of a split. You want them to as much as possible keep
their head in the game up there, have a connection with home, be an
adviser to the person on the ground, and feel like the person on the
ground has sufficient social supports and professional support to
get them through the situation, so that the person on orbit doesn’t
have to get in there and solve every turn left and turn right about
it. They can let that go and feel okay about it. That’s how
we do that.
Your science is almost like an art.
I think there’s a component of both. It really is. I think there’s
a little of both.
Does management for the most part stand behind your decisions on what
you need to do? Or have you had situations where you’ve had
to explain and are overruled on some issues of how you’ve done
I think sometimes unfortunately—and I think this was more common
in the earlier days—I’d say in the last 10 years it’s
less common. In the last 10 years I think we’ve reached a level
of momentum and acceptability within the organization that people
see us as a resource and in fact they start doing the things that
we’re doing over in MOD [Mission Operations Directorate] or
FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate]. They’ll start doing
things and initiating things using our language. Our expeditionary
skills training takes off, and we just love that, because it means
that the organization is accepting the importance of behavioral factors,
and not because we need it to feel better, but because we think that
it’s an important aspect of successful long duration missions.
In the old days it was a real scrap just to get anything going at
all. It was fighting tooth and nail to establish a program, but the
climate has changed a great deal over there. The climate has changed
a great deal within the Astronaut Office, within all the major components,
and in society. The climate has changed and it’s more conducive.
Long duration flight has come online, which is what we contribute
best to, so I think things are better. In the early days it would
take an event, it would take a negative event. In the early days we
took a step forward after some catastrophe. In fact I did a presentation
to AsMA one time outlining, showing the timeline, and showing the
catastrophes and where we took a step forward.
For instance annual exams. There is an annual physical exam, always
has been for fliers. There’s never been a psychiatric portion
to that just to see how they are doing. In the early days after selection
oftentimes there never would be another opportunity to see how the
fliers were doing in their personal lives, how the family is doing,
that sort of thing. We requested many times to have a psychological/psychiatric
component associated with the physical exam that would be done once
a year. That was denied. It took an event for them to realize that
they needed to stay in touch with their fliers. You can’t just
select them and let them go. People change over time; their circumstances
change over time. Once that event occurred, then we were allowed to
do annual exams. Unfortunately there was more of that going on, more
of that kind of progress, than rationally driven progress. I think
there’s much more rationally driven process now. I really do.
I really believe that.
Society has also gotten more global, just like your office has in
That’s true, you’re right, that’s great. It’s
different. With social media the world is shrinking a little bit.
Everybody’s shifting. Something happens here, globally there’s
a shift, rather than just regionally. That’s good and bad, but
It keeps us moving, doesn’t it? Speaking of moving, I’m
going to ask Sandra if she has some questions for you and give us
a chance to think about what else we want to talk about.
It was interesting earlier on when we were talking about the leadership
versus the followership, and you were talking about three people working
and one person takes the leadership and that gets shared, and you
said that that’s the way that small Western teams work best.
With the international component of course, with ISS, does that carry
over with the international partners? Or do different groups tend
to work differently? How does that work?
Yes, it is culturally driven or culturally affected. For instance
traditionally, the Russian crews are much more hierarchical and it’s
driven that way from top down. Top down-driven. The Western models
tend to be more consensual, tend to be a little flatter in their organizational
structure. They’re not, “You’re the top, here’s
the deputy.” It’s flatter. You have someone at the top,
then you have specialists. The Western crews are different due to
Of course there are still cultural differences. You have the Canadians,
you have all the European countries, you have the Japanese. There
are differences. People are basically the same, and the people who
fly from any culture are basically the same in that they want to fly,
they love to fly, they like technological things, they’re scientists
and engineers. They share a common subculture, an aerospace subculture
that they all relate to. They want to fly, they enjoy flying, and
they can look across, and even though you can’t speak their
language, you understand that they’re having a good time too.
You have some common goals and some similarities.
However, the differences that I’ve seen arise typically revolve
around leadership and gender. The cultural differences in all the
international partners globally, I think those things jump out, at
least in spaceflight. The way different cultures define what a good
leader is and a poor leader or a good follower and a poor follower
differ, as does gender roles. What the role of the female should be
on Station varies culturally. These two things from the BHP point
of view are probably the areas in which we would expect the most tension
to occur between crews. Even more so than say whether someone’s
a pilot or a scientist, which are two different cultures within the
Yes, there are definitely cultural differences. You got to remember
ISS is not a single cohesive crew. It’s more like a duplex.
You have the Russians living on one side of the duplex and the USOS,
Western, and Japanese on the other side. Basically it’s like
living in a duplex. You’ll get together for meals from time
to time. Depending on the personalities onboard, you might get together
often for meals, there’d be a lot of interchange, or you might
just do that once a week, have a movie night once a week.
The Station is of a volume that it’s very easy for you to continue
working on your side of the duplex, because there’s plenty for
you to do, and just get over there occasionally. The other side is
the Russian side. The Russian side and the Western side. That changes
the dynamics. It’s not a single cohesive group that Westerners
or Russians have to adapt to. It’s more of a hybrid situation.
That’s partially due I think to the fact that there are rotating
piece crews rather than single crews going up and back, and partially
due to the construction of the Station, and partially due to the slightly
different rules that apply to each side of the duplex.
For instance our Safety [team] might say, “Okay, guys, you can’t
use this particular piece of hardware on our side because of our flammability
rules.” The Russians can, so it lives over here on the Russian
side, but the Station still is at the same level of risk. You might
have differences. The Russians may have different safety standards
or other standards, food standards, whatever it might be, than the
Western side. It’s a funny little duck. It’s not what
many people think of when they think of Space Station that you got
a set of people up there; it’s really two sets of people.
You mentioned pilots versus scientists. That’s always been there
since they first started selecting scientist astronauts. I was thinking
that someone—we mentioned Peggy Whitson earlier, since she had
done the research during Shuttle-Mir and then she got a chance to
fly. Without obviously mentioning anything personal about anybody,
but in my mind I was thinking that maybe scientists when they go up
there, since they are doing what they love, they’re doing their
science, they’re so devoted to that, when they come down, then
you have all the results. There’s going to be that continuation
of excitement. Whereas, like you mentioned, some people when they
come back, 30 days out, they get their last interview with you, and
then all of a sudden, “Now what do I do?” Do you see that
depending on their particular agenda or interest, that that is a big
difference when they come back?
Between those two groups?
Between pilots and scientists for example. Or if there’s any
other groups like that that it affects them differently.
I agree with you that people who are more integrated into the science
that’s onboard tend to be more comfortable on the Station, the
science Station. Pilots tend to want to do things with their hands.
They tend to want to do this [driving motion with hands]. But, those
that fly to Station are those that want to do that but also like to
be on a Station. Those that didn’t want to sit on Station generally
have left, and they’ve gone to do other things.
The two groups now are more equivalent than they were before Station,
when there was stark differences during the Shuttle-only era. You
don’t see the stark differences here. The groups are a little
bit closer towards alike. You do have people that come into the organization
as world-class scientists and with the thought that they’re
going to do world-class science, and that’s not true, and they
don’t continue doing their own science. They’re now in
a situation of being a formerly world-class scientist who is doing
someone else’s science that they may or may not particularly
get excited about. That’s an adjustment that generally begins
preflight, but once you’re in flight that’s part of the
deal. There’s a lot of wrench turning up there. There’s
a lot of air filter changing and attending to the Station and maintaining
the Station. It’s more of a blue-collar job.
One of the things you want to do early on at the very front door,
you start—but they don’t hear it—you start talking
about how this is a regular job. “Whatever you had in your mind
about what this was like is wrong. This is just a regular job. You
and all these other people are going to go do that. It involves a
lot of mechanics and just routine stuff that may or may not be satisfying
to you. Yes, you do get to be in space, but at the same time you’re
not going to be doing world-class science. You’re not going
to be flying a hot jet plane.”
You try to dispel that along the way. I think when they return, the
scientists that are up there, I think they’re in general more
connected with the science projects, more embedded with the investigator
communities, take more interest in that, and therefore—I can’t
say do better when they return, I can’t say that, I don’t
have the data to say that, but—I do see that they are significantly
invested in the payloads.
When we go to Mars I think we’re going to need much more of
that. We’re going to need, because it’s such a long way,
people who know it more intimately from a systems point of view, each
payload, and we need the families to more intimately know the payloads
and to be involved in the work that’s going on up there. I’d
like them to understand, “Oh, it’s Thursday, okay, so
Thursdays they’re going to be doing this, that, or the other,
and yes, I know that. This is out of University of Pennsylvania. I
think I’ll call Bob and see how the data is coming back.”
I would want the families to be that integrated from their point of
view, which is radically different than we currently do. I’d
like to see the fliers a little bit more integrated in the payloads
and in the teams that are providing the payloads as the payloads are
You’ve mentioned the family a lot. It’s very interesting
because we all need family support, even on the ground, but there
are some people who have flown that don’t have as much family
involvement, they’re single, they’re not attached, or
different things. Do you see a difference in people when they fly
that are not attached to people on the ground as opposed to people
that are more attached?
Well, you see difference in just habits in terms of comm [communications],
how much comm you have, what time of day. Like people with families
that have kids try to catch the kids at a certain time, like before
they leave for school or just as they’re coming back from school,
or before the spouse leaves for work. There’s communication
at certain times, whether there’s a family in place or not.
In general they’re not under enough duress in this environment
for those things to come to the surface. We know from prisoner of
war [POW] studies and some of our connections with prisoners of war
groups—that was an analog back at the beginning—that individuals
with families fared better during imprisonment than individuals without
families, because it gave them a reason to continue to thrive and
to come home.
That was under great duress. We don’t have that kind of duress
in this particular environment. Now if we go to a more difficult mission
or heaven forbid if an ISS flight suddenly had a debris hit and everybody
comes down into one module or two modules, it’s a different
Station. It’s no longer the Station it was. There will be different
dynamics onboard, it’ll be a completely different game. Under
those conditions you might then see differences that the POW folks
saw. We haven’t seen that yet.
Possibly longer duration like a Mars mission that might apply?
Possibly so, yes.
You’ve taught people how to work with each other. Are you teaching
them how to deal with working with robots and what it’ll be
like to have interaction with nonhuman behavior? Is that something
that you guys are looking at as well?
They are not yet there; we’re not there yet because operations
has such a short term view of things. The research side of BHP, however,
has a much longer term view. No, they’re not doing anything
there, but what we want them to do and what we are talking to people
about—there’s various researchers out there that are working
on virtual reality. The virtual reality offers not a robot but offers
artificial environments, environments different than the one you might
be in. If we put on a VR headset right now we could be in any environment
imagined, although we’re here.
Like a holodeck [fictional virtual reality facility].
Like a holodeck, but cheap. We’re pushing to experiment that
way, but not with robotics. I just think robotics will come on probably
a little bit slower than VR does, but eventually they’ll have
to do that.
Yes, because I can see astronauts viewing robots as competitors in
Unless you are the one who is helping program that robot; unless that’s
your robot and you have a choice.
Before we finish today, there are a couple of other questions I wanted
to ask. It’s a long time for you to have to think back, but
are there some times during your adventures with the ISS Program that
you feel have been rewarding and that you believe your group has significantly
contributed to the success of the program?
I do believe it has been a big contributor, but whenever I say something
like that I always wonder if I’m just saying something I’d
like to be true. It seems to have been that way if we look at the
feedback we get from the crews and the families, that the systems
approach we take has been very effective. And, we are constantly trying
to improve what we’re doing. When we come up with a new thing,
it’s really the best thing since sliced bread. There’s
always that little thing, and then it’s well, what’s the
next step going to be? I really like just the relentless pursuit of
improvement. I think that that’s been noticed or registered
within the ISS.
The crewmembers say across the board they like BHP, or they say they
like BHP better than any of the other elements. They think that we’ve
done a better job. I don’t know if that’s true or not,
but if we did, I’d certainly put BHP up against training, any
of the other elements, in terms of providing services that are perceived
as good and important by the crew and their families.
I think it’s been just a general contribution. I don’t
think there’s been a particular event. I do know that we get
pulled in if there is an event or if there’s an event within
a family we’ll get pulled in, and we’ve done very well.
I really don’t want to refer to the particular events, but there
have been some events that have occurred nationally that have involved
some of our crewmembers. We’ve spent just days and days and
days on these things that are completely behind the scenes. When you
ask me the question, I feel tired.
Yes, you should.
There is a lot that happens that is below the visibility of the public
and of course the people on site, because we screen off what we do,
a lot of what we do even from flight surgeons, which are in our own
camp. Things are very very ratcheted down.
I can tell you that a lot of our group have spent just days and days
working a problem for a family or working a problem for an astronaut,
and successfully I think. Not always fully successful, but certainly
showing that given all the constraints in what we can do, they are
there, we are here, all the other constraints that exist, that we’re
batting for them. I think that’s a big part of it.
Sometimes the success of a crisis is just making it through, and you
are there for them.
Right. Or lots of times it makes it go away. We’ve got something
coming up. Okay, it’s back down. Okay, we’re back on track.
Then it doesn’t perturb the system. It doesn’t perturb
the next flight. It doesn’t perturb the current flight. Work
keeps getting done. The mission progresses. There’s a lot of
prevention. That’s what we’re all about. We’re all
about prevention, and detection, so that if you detect something early
on you solve it before it becomes a big problem. That’s 99 percent
of what we do.
If we fall into the reactive mode like some organizations have, then
it’s already too late. You’re going to have problems,
and your mission management has problems. Things go wrong, things
break, people get hurt, people get killed. We’ve seen all that
in simulations and we’ve seen fistfights in Russian simulations
and all kinds of things. We learned from them that prevention is worth
a pound of cure, to coin a phrase.
What do you think is going to be the legacy of the ISS?
I think the international character is a big part of it. I do believe
it shows that nations can get together and can build something that
is relatively untouched by geopolitical events and does keep producing
something and is something you can look to and say, “Well, we
did do that together and it is successful and it is a remarkable achievement.”
I think there’s that. I think that’ll be a big part of
I also believe that it will be a stepping stone for a habitat on the
Moon and of course a Mars flight. I’d always hoped that instead
of a Space Station we would use the Moon as our Space Station, but
that probably just shows my age. I always had hoped that that would
be the Space Station. I do think we will have a lunar station one
day and that this low-Earth orbit Station will have been good practice.
I’m just concerned about gaps, like the gap between the end
of the Apollo Program and whenever we go back to the Moon. There’s
this gap. During the gaps your corporate knowledge goes away. It ages,
retires, goes away. Then the new generation has to relearn those lessons
that you’ve already learned, and I can see that.
Last weekend I had to clean out my garage. In cleaning out my garage,
I located these boxes of things from back in the Mir days. Old documents
and Russian documents and studies from back when I was looking at
analogs and looking at some of the old, very very early behavioral
simulations that were done by McDonnell Douglas and some of the others.
Reading some of the studies, they had already approached the questions
that we then had to reapproach when I came on, or that BHP research
is approaching. They had already started that process.
Then there was a gap and there was nothing, because short flights
didn’t drive behavioral questions. It always went to the money,
“We don’t have the money for that, it’s not that
important, it’s a short flight.” There was a gap. That’s
what I’m concerned about, between ISS and Mars there’ll
be a gap that will be populated perhaps by short term missions to
the Moon or to an asteroid and back. We’ll get back into a population
of astronauts and a population of researchers and operational people
who’ll be very familiar with short-term flight outside of low-Earth
orbit, up to two, three, four weeks, even maybe a four-month mission
on the Moon, or even a six-month mission on the Moon. But, we will
not have progressed and kept the lessons learned from the one-year
missions on ISS or some of the longer missions on ISS. I worry about
that knowledge gap before going to Mars. That’s my only concern,
that there won’t be a continuous learning process. We’ll
have to relearn this stuff.
Hopefully all the lessons will get picked up, but so many times so
That’s right. So many lessons are in the heads of people on
site [JSC]. If you don’t capture them, like you guys try to
do, or the lessons learned other people try to do, if they’re
not not only captured but documented in a way that other people then
want to access them, know about them, and do access them in the future,
then you have to relearn those lessons. That’s a big waste of
It is. I know that you brought some notes; are there other topics
you wanted to talk about?
Just one here, that a Space Station is not a Space Station, is not
a Space Station. So [Russian] Salyut was different than Skylab, which
was different than Mir, which was different than ISS. Typically we,
the big we, think of “space station” as they are all the
same. They’re very much not—very much different environments
that make different demands on individuals that then drive different
requirements for selection, training, support, and the type of people
I think this was partly learned by the contrast between ISS and Mir.
That’s where I learned it. I went in expecting more difficulties,
but then we have this volume, and getting rid of a lot of the environmental
issues that we had on Mir solved a lot of the problems, and it reminded
me of the power of the environment. So much of behavior is driven
by the environment. Once we get through the selection and training
process then it’s all about environment. That was just a big
One particular thing that jumped out is that the Space Station is
a heavily ground-commanded platform versus the Space Shuttle. Space
Shuttle was not designed to be as heavily ground-commanded as ISS.
But, ISS, they thought, “Well, we’re going to make this
heavily ground-commanded, so the crew doesn’t have to worry
about flipping these various switches, and not doing as much maintenance.”
In fact they do do a lot of maintenance on ISS, but the fact that
it’s heavily ground-commanded takes away their autonomy sometimes
in some respects. These type-A people who are used to and like being
in autonomous situations and making decisions can’t make those
decisions, because it’s heavily ground-commanded. It’s
a ground station, and they’re just one part of the system that’s
operating up there.
Different than Shuttle—Shuttle, there was much more autonomy.
That’s another aspect that changed between Shuttle and ISS,
was the fact that the ground command was so much higher that the satisfaction
of the crew—many of the crewmembers, not all—was less
because of that. It was less attractive, and creates sometimes tension
between the fliers on orbit and ground control because of that lack
of ability to make their own decisions, control their own schedule.
When we look at Mars, we’re going to go back to, by necessity,
a less ground-commanded vehicle. There’ll be more autonomy there,
so that’s going to place new requirements on Mission Control—the
“control” may be softened in that title for Mars. That’s
just one thing I wanted to point out, that Space Station, the one
we have up there, ISS, is unique in the fact that it’s heavily
ground-commanded and different than Skylab. That makes the difference
for the people that are on it.
It does. Are you going to share with us before you leave the one thing
that all crewmembers hate to do when they’re on Station? Is
there something that’s universal? Do they hate taking out the
Oh yes—I think they all hate working on the toilet, but that’s
That’s right. Thanks, Al, we appreciate it.