NASA Tips For Living In Close Quarters

NASA logo.
Credit: NASA

With many people living and working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is offering a summary of the framework it uses to prepare astronauts for the mental and emotional challenges of long-duration spaceflight.

“You can be successful in confinement if you are intentional about your actions and deliberate about caring for your team,” NASA wrote March 27 in an outline of what it calls “Expeditionary Behavior.” 

The practice boils down to five general skills and associated behaviors, NASA said: 

• Communication, which means to talk so you are clearly understood; to listen and question to understand; to actively listen and pick up on nonverbal cues; to identify, discuss, and then work to resolve conflict. 

Skills: sharing information and feelings freely. Talking about your intentions before taking action. Using proper terminology. Discussing when your or others’ actions were not as expected. Taking time to debrief after success or conflict. Listening, then restating messages to ensure they are understood. Admitting when you are wrong.

• Leadership/Followership, which refers to how well a team adapts to changed situations. A leader enhances the group’s ability to execute its purpose through positive influence. A follower actively contributes to the leader’s direction. The point is to establish an environment of trust. 

Skills: accepting responsibility; adjusting your style to your environment; assigning tasks and setting goals; leading by example; giving direction, information, feedback, coaching and encouragement. Ensuring your teammates have resources. Talking when something isn’t right. Asking questions. Offering solutions, not just problems.

• Self-Care, which means keeping track of how healthy you are on psychological and physical levels. It includes hygiene, managing your time and your stuff, getting sleep and maintaining your mood. Through self-care, you demonstrate your ability to be proactive to stay healthy. 

Skills: realistically assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, and their influence on the group; learning from mistakes; identifying personal tendencies and their influence on your success or failure; being open about your weaknesses and feelings; taking action to mitigate your own stress or negativity and not passing it on to the group; being social; seeking feedback; balancing work, rest and personal time; being organized. 

• Team Care, which refers to how healthy the group is on psychological, physical and logistical levels and recognizing that this can be influenced by stress, fatigue, sickness, supplies, resources, workload, etc. and nurture optimal team performance despite the challenges.

Skills: demonstrating patience and respect; encouraging others; monitoring your team for signs of stress or fatigue; encouraging participation in team activities; develop positive relationships; volunteering for the unpleasant tasks; offering and accepting help; sharing credit; taking the blame. 

• Group Living, which is how people cooperate and become a team to achieve a goal; identify and manage different opinions, cultures, perceptions, skills and personalities; demonstrate resilience in the face of difficulty. 

Skills: Cooperating rather than competing; actively cultivating group culture by using each individual’s culture to build the whole; respecting roles, responsibilities and workload; taking accountability; giving praise freely; working to ensure a positive team attitude; keeping calm in conflict.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.