Class Clown

An anthropologist at the University of Florida is making the case that long space missions, like a crewed trip to Mars, would require crew members with pronounced senses of humor to build social bridges and defuse tension at a perilous distance from Earth.

"These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale," said Jeffrey Johnson, who's working with NASA to study the importance of humor during long spaceflights, in an interview with the Guardian. "When you’re living with others in a confined space for a long period of time, such as on a mission to Mars, tensions are likely to fray."

Far From Home

Before he turned his work to astronauts, Johnson spent years studying another isolated group: long term workers in Antarctica, where he found that self-appointed clowns and practical jokers were crucial to forging bonds under tense conditions.

"These roles are informal, they emerge within the group," Johnson told the Guardian. "But the interesting thing is that if you have the right combination the group does very well. And if you don’t, the group does very badly."

Mission Critical

In a mission to Mars, communication delays could be as long as 20 minutes — and the eight month trip takes astronauts far from health care and other resources back on Earth.

"It’s vital you have somebody who can help everyone get along, so they can do their jobs and get there and back safely," Johnson told the Guardian. "It’s mission critical."

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