The federal space agency is reportedly looking for a jokester to accompany astronauts on a mission to Mars that’s set to take place sometime in the 2030s, the purpose being to help keep morale high on the planned, two-year journey.
“These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale,” Jeffrey Johnson, who’s working with NASA to find the best candidates for this job, is quoted as saying.
“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.”
Having practical jokers accompany long-term workers in Antarctica has already proven successful
Johnson came up with the idea after studying long-term workers in Antarctica, another isolated group that he found did all-around better when a joker was present to lighten the mood.
“These roles are informal,” Johnson says. “They emerge within the group. 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.”
This is especially true out in space, where communication delays back to earth can be up to 20 minutes long, not to mention the fact that living in space is much different than living on earth – including the fact that there’s little-to-no access to proper health care in space.
“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 contends. “It’s mission critical.”
If you’re a scientist and engineer who believes you’re capable of functioning well in isolation far away from earth for years on end, get in touch with NASA
Johnson made the case for having a class clown on space missions during the recent annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, entitled: “Building a Winning Team for Missions to Mars.”
In Johnson’s view, groups and teams, regardless of whether or not they’re in space, always work better when they have somebody “who takes on the role of class clown.”
“We can all think of the person at work who fulfills this role, who makes us laugh and makes the job more enjoyable,” he says. “People like being around them.”
But it’s not enough to just be funny, Johnson says. The right candidate, at least for NASA’s purposes, will also need to be a proper scientist and engineer, and someone who’s capable of passing a “rigorous training regimen.”
It’s also important for the right candidate to be comfortable living in isolation, far away from earth for years on end with just a few other people. In other words, socialites who can’t live without earthly comforts and who always need to be around other people need not apply.
“There are people who are loving and laughable and jovial and endearing, and therefore bring people together. But others who are cruel,” says Johnson.
“When I worked at the South Pole station there was lots of cruel behaviour. There’s a difference between button pushing and being funny. It’s better to become a mascot – get taken in by the group and loved.”
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