Effective and efficient communication between Mission Control and space crews is essential for successful task performance and mission safety. The importance of team communication is heightened when unforeseen problems arise, such as system failures that are time-critical and require extensive coordination and collaboration between space and ground crews. During long duration missions and missions beyond Low Earth Orbit, space-ground communications will involve delays up to 20 minutes one-way, a reality that poses a formidable challenge to team communication and task performance. The overall aim of this research project was to develop and validate medium-specific communication protocols that enable flight controllers and space crews to establish and maintain common ground (i.e., mutual task and situation awareness) and coordinate problem solutions in response to different operational tasks during periods of communication delays. Specific project goals were: (1) Determine the impact of communication delays on communication, teamwork, and task performance in relation to varying task demands, i.e., procedural tasks vs. tasks requiring analysis and decision making, and different communication media (voice vs. text). (2) Develop and validate communication protocols to support joint problem solving and decision making by mission controllers and space crews during periods of asynchronous communication. To achieve these objectives several ground-based studies (space analog and laboratory) were conducted.
The first set of studies had the goal to determine how transmission delays of various lengths impact team communication and performance under different media conditions. Findings then informed the design of medium-specific communication protocols. Their feasibility for space missions was assessed in two analog environments s [Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) and NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations NEEMO)]. A complimentary laboratory study was conducted to examine further whether the availability of protocols enhanced remote team members’ communication and task performance during periods of communication delay.