The first crew to set forth to Mars are likely in Middle School or High School, but NASA is already delving into what criteria it should use to select the interplanetary explorers. That they should be physically fit and experts in their fields are a given. But the space agency is keen that the people who will set forth to Mars in 20 years or so should be of a particular psychological type. NASA has granted Johns Hopkins a money conduct a study into the problem.
A person who is going to be stuck in close quarters with three to five other people for three years while embarked on the longest, most hazardous voyage in history cannot be a grouchy curmudgeon who needs a lot of personal space. Not would that person be too extroverted, craving a lot of social interaction. They need to be team players who can get along with other persons, perhaps from different cultures considering that the first Mars trip is likely to be an international one.
Since the first Mars astronauts are not available yet for testing and evaluation, the Hopkins study will recruit surgical and critical care residents to consider how they behave in high-stress situations. The Hopkins study will be complemented by a similar project to be conducted by Rice University in Houston, Texas.
The hazards to be faced by the first people to go to Mars include facing the effects of microgravity and radiation on the voyage to and from the Red Planet. Mars itself presents a number of hazards for a group of people who will be expected to survive for over a year while exploring and conducting science.
NASA and other institutions such as the United States military have been studying what happens to groups of people in isolation and proximity to one another. Scientists who spend months at bases in Antarctica, crews of nuclear submarines, volunteers in simulated Mars missions, and, of course, astronauts on the International Space Station have all contributed data to the problem.
But the first people to go to Mars will be isolated as no human beings have been before. For a long period, 20 minutes must pass for messages to go to and from Earth. People who will go to Mars will not only be in the peak of physical condition but will be psychologically tough, able to face long periods of boredom and sudden, deadly crises with equal alacrity.