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Multi-Team Dynamics and Distributed Expertise in Mission Operations

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Caldwell BS. Multi-team dynamics and distributed expertise in mission operations. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76(6, Suppl.):B145–53.

The evolution of space exploration has brought an increased awareness of the social and socio-technical issues associated with team performance and task coordination, both for the onboard astronauts and in mission control. Spaceflight operations create a unique environment in which to address classic group dynamics topics including communication, group process, knowledge development and sharing, and time-critical task performance. Mission operations in the early years of the 21st century have developed into a set of complex, multi-team task settings incorporating multiple mission control teams and flight crews interacting in novel ways. These more complex operational settings help highlight the emergence of a new paradigm of distributed supervisory coordination, and the need to consider multiple dimensions of expertise being supported and exchanged among team members. The creation of new mission profiles with very long-duration time scales (months, rather than days) for the International Space Station, as well as planned exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, emphasize fundamental distinctions from the 40 yr from Mercury to the Space Shuttle. Issues in distributed expertise and information flow in mission control settings from two related perspectives are described. A general conceptual view of knowledge sharing and task synchronization is presented within the context of the mission control environment. This conceptual presentation is supplemented by analysis of quasi-experimental data collected from actual flight controllers at NASA-Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.
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Keywords: distributed performance; group dynamics; information technology; knowledge sharing; mission control; spaceflight

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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