Sending astronauts into space, especially on long-durations missions (e.g. three-year missions to Mars), entails enormous risk. Threats include both physical dangers of radiation, bone loss and other consequences of weightlessness, and also those arising from interpersonal problems associated with extended life in a high-risk isolated and confined environment. Before undertaking long-duration missions, NASA seeks to develop technologies to monitor indicators of potentially debilitating stress at both the individual and team level so that countermeasures can be introduced to prevent further
deterioration. Doing so requires a better understanding of indicators of team health and performance. To that end, a study of team problem solving in a simulation environment was undertaken to explore effects of team and task stress. Groups of four males (25-45 yrs) engaged in six dynamic computer-based Antarctic search and rescue missions over four days. Both task and team stressors were manipulated. Physiological responses (ECG, respiration rate and amplitude, SCL, EMG, and PPG); communication (voice and email); individual personality and subjective team dynamics responses were collected and related to task performance. Initial analyses found that physiological measures can be used to identify transient stress, predict performance, and reflect subjective workload. Muscle tension and respiration were the most robust predictors. Not only the level of arousal but its variability during engagement in the task is important to consider. In general, less variability was found to be associated with higher levels of performance. Individuals scoring high on specific personality characteristics responded differently to task stress.