There's no doubt about it now--humans will be going to Mars. In fact, with innovators like Elon Musk pursuing the concept full force, NASA already has issued a plan that would put us on the red planet in just 16 years. Before you buy your space ticket, though, you'll want to make sure you've got all the personality traits NASA thinks are essential for such a trip.
The characteristics that are most important
In a new study published in American Psychologist, researchers Lauren Landon, Kelly Slack and Jamie Barrett examined the challenges of multi-year space missions and the types of personality traits that might be desirable for enhancing teamwork and reducing risks. Based on research from simulations and long-term missions in places such as the Antarctic, the study stated that
"the suggested personality profile includes
Similarly, [...] extreme high or low values for any personality factor indicated that the individual was not suited to be an astronaut."
In other words, you need to be able to do your work thoroughly and well with an awareness of your influence, be a little more social (but not too much), be OK getting out of your comfort zone or shifting gears, and have the ability to keep your mood relatively consistent and reasonable even in the face of stress. You need to be optimistic, kind and willing to help others.
Not surprisingly, the researchers also noted that humor helps. But not just any humor. Coarse jokes, for example, can be irritating and offensive to other people. Just like in the workplace, the best type of humor for a Mars trip is affiliative. This type of humor helps people feel like part of the group and improves camaraderie and morale. It can relieve stress and make resolving conflicts easier, too.
Why are these specific traits better than others?
These personality traits make clear sense when you consider that, while there of course will be independent tasks you'll need to rely on yourself to do, your survival and the survival of others depends on your ability to work together and not freak out in a crisis. Handling yourself in the harsh space or Mars environment will be stressful and complex enough without having others push your buttons, and given that there's no quick flight out of the joint, you'll need to be able to stay positive and have a feeling of connection to stay mentally healthy.
Don't have the traits? Don't worry too much
Now, all this said, it's worth pointing out that, while any trip to space would be mentally trying too some degree, a NASA exploration and development team isn't the same as a commercial ship where civilians aren't expected to do much aside from tolerate the physics rules and be passengers. So while these traits might hold true in the long-term for people like captains and technical specialists, the study doesn't necessarily mean that only one type of person will get to enjoy Mars. Just like contemporary airline pilots shuttle individuals with personalities all over the globe, we'll probably see all kinds of people carted to Mars, too. The idea of full colonization if Earth isn't inhabitable anymore also assumes that there won't be personality bias and that everyone who needs to go will be able to do so. Plus, personality isn't totally static. It can shift as your biology and experiences progress. So if this kind of trip is your dream and you don't fit the profile, take heart. It's just a matter of time.