A Tale of Three Teams: Effect of Long-Term Isolation in SIRIUS-21 on Crew Interpersonal Networks

Alina Lungeanu*, Leslie A. DeChurch, Noshir S. Contractor, Joy Caroline Liebman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Crews venturing into deep space need to develop and maintain positive working relationships, and avoid negative ones. Effective crews need to maintain high levels of motivation, leadership, and viability, while minimizing hindrance relations among the crew. Applying social network theory and methods, we explore three topological aspects of team social relations found to predict their capacity to perform effectively. These include (1) the level of interconnectedness among the crew, (2) the degree to which the crew shows hierarchy, and variation on status, position, or power, and (3) the extent to which the crew shows subgrouping among members. We investigated crew relations over time during SIRIUS-21, and compared their relations to two non-isolated control “twin teams.” All three teams were observed for 8 months in order to understand developmental patterns in crew relations, and how these patterns are affected by extended isolation. SIRIUS-21 included a 6-member crew in isolation in the NEK for 8 months. Once the SIRIUS-21 crew was formed, we recruited two control teams, matched on diversity at the team level with the SIRIUS-21 crew: TWIN-BLACK and TWIN-SILVER teams. During the 8-month mission, all three crews worked together on team tasks and completed regular surveys enabling us to track the development patterns of relations. The “twin teams” data serve as a comparison and example of crew relations outside of an isolated and confined environment. The SIRIUS-21 crew began with 6 members, but an off-nominal event occurred on Mission Day 32: a crew member was injured, and needed to leave the mission. The two control crews were reconfigured so our data includes three teams of 5 members each. We assessed 4 networks: motivation, leadership, hindrance, and viability. All social networks were assessed using sociometric surveys administered to SIRIUS-21 and the two twin teams twice a week over 8 months. We found substantial differences between SIRIUS-21 crew and twin teams. SIRIUS-21 was the most motivated out of the three teams. At the same time, SIRIUS-21 encountered the most difficulties among the crewmembers and was the least viable team. Importantly, the off-nominal event disturbed the patterns of social relationships in SIRIUS-21 crew: The loss of the crew member Mission Specialist 2 moved the leadership network from connected to disconnected and triggered the formation of two subgroups that persisted for the duration of the mission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
StatePublished - 2022
Event73rd International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2022 - Paris, France
Duration: Sep 18 2022Sep 22 2022


  • crew relations
  • leadership
  • NEK
  • SIRIUS-21
  • subgrouping
  • twin teams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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