A tale of three teams: Effect of long-term isolation in SIRIUS-21 on crew interpersonal networks
Crews venturing into deep space need to develop and maintain positive working relationships, and avoid negative ones. Effective crews need to maintain high levels of motivation, leadership, and viability, while minimizing hindrance relations among the crew. Applying social network theory and methods, we explore three topological aspects of team social relations found to predict their capacity to perform effectively. These include (1) the level of interconnectedness among the crew, (2) the degree to which the crew shows hierarchy, and variation on status, position, or power, and (3) the extent to which the crew shows subgrouping among members. In this study we investigated crew relations over time during Nazemnyy Eksperimental'nyy Kompleks (NEK) SIRIUS-21 mission, and compared their relations to two non-isolated control “twin teams.” All three teams were observed for 8 months in order to understand developmental patterns in crew relations, and how these patterns are affected by extended isolation. Results show that there are substantial differences between SIRIUS-21 crew and control teams. The motivation ties were strongest in SIRIUS-21 as compared to non-isolated controls. At the same time, SIRIUS-21 experienced the most hindrance. Importantly, the loss of one SIRIUS-21 crew member on mission day 32 was associated with degraded crew networks, creating subgroups that persisted for the duration of the mission.