LIVING ALOFT: Human Requirements for Extended Spaceflight


[Artist Mitchell Jamieson]







[259] An understanding of small group dynamics is essential for planning a nonsolitary mission of any size. However, as crew size increases beyond that point in which each crewmember can interact with each and every other crew member on a face-to-face basis, additional, higher-order social variables become salient. Interpersonal relations are supplemented by intergroup relations, and organizational-level phenomena must be taken into account. For present purposes, organizations may be defined as large, complex social entities which are composed of interdependent subgroups. In the present chapter, we consider means for motivating and coordinating the space organization's members and subgroups to achieve overall mission goals.

Relatively small crews can achieve the necessary degree of coordination through professionalization. This involves identifying a select group of individuals whose particular blending of abilities, motives, and interests provide the right combination for the exhaustive training associated with the profession (Perrow, 1979). As a result of years of formal and informal preparation, the recruit acquires a backlog of knowledge and the skills deemed appropriate for the profession. After overcoming a series of hurdles culminating in a major rite de passage (receiving pilot's wings; being introduced to the press as a trained astronaut, etc.), the professional is deemed capable of exercising independent judgment while remaining coordinated with coworkers.

[260] Different members of a profession share a body of knowledge, expectations, and common skills (Perrow, 1979). When confronted with a particular problem or situation, the professional's training permits rapid comprehension of the problem, retrieval of relevant knowledge, speedy identification of admissable courses of action, and prompt response. If teamwork is required, years of training have taught each person his or her place. Thus, for example, small teams of astronauts can work effectively with only minimal communication. Under the professional mode of organization, learned expectations coordinate different people's activities.

As crew size expands it will become increasingly difficult to achieve the necessary degree of coordination through professionalization, for this mode of organization will become too expensive, too time-consuming, and too unwieldy. Truly large-scale missions will necessarily depend upon modes of organization which require less selectivity in choosing astronauts and less extensive training than is presently the case. Some of the burden for social organization must shift from internalized rules common to members of a profession to external social constraints.

Traditionally, a distinction can be drawn between the planners and managers who design a space-capsule social system, and the crew that puts the system into operation. Although this distinction is convenient for purposes of discussion, design and implementation are not necessarily separate. Weick (1977) notes that since the processes of design and implementation tend to clarify and elaborate one another, the implementers (in the present case, the spacecrew) should be heavily involved in both the formulation and modification of plans. From Weick's perspective, organizations may be treated as self-designing systems, or systems in which users contribute to the design or redesign.

There are two major advantages to self-design. Although of value in any setting, these advantages become pronounced when time or distance separates the planners and implementers. First, self-design ensures that the implementers' abilities, needs, and perspectives are taken into account. Through self-design, idiosyncratic characteristics become an integral part of the overall social system. Second, self-design facilitates prompt and appropriate response to unanticipated or changing conditions.

Discussing the value of self-design, Weick cites an incident involving the over- programming of astronauts' time by means of a [261] relentless barrage of computerized instructions. (This incident will be described fully later in this chapter.) The pace set by the computer proved difficult or impossible for the crew to maintain, and distracted them from activities which did not appear on the computer's list, but which should have been given high priority. Weick ventures that general instructions coupled with a list of desirable projects would have better accommodated the crew's personal requirements and the efficiency with which they attained various mission goals. Weick also notes that even if the crew had displayed enthusiasm for carrying out computerized instructions, latitude for discretionary action would have remained important. Otherwise, the crew's progress could have been halted by a computer malfunction.

The basic goals of self-design are a system which is pliable in the sense that it form-fits its members; responsive , in the sense that it can react appropriately to changing conditions; and proactive, in the sense that it contains the seeds for self-development or improvement. Although there are no hard and fast rules for establishing self-designing systems, there are certain general guidelines. These include (1) blurring the distinction between planners and implementers; (2) incorporating latitude for improvization; (3) devising mechanisms which the crew itself can use to solve problems and improve its own procedures; (4) encouraging crewmembers to broaden their sights to encompass an expanding array of alternatives and options; and (5) promoting questioning attitudes.