Future missions on Mars will need "class clown" in their crew to succeed


As humans embark on the next great journey into the unknown, there will have to be someone aboard the first spaceship bound to Mars capable of cracking a joke.

To reach the red planet, astronauts will have to experience an unprecedented degree of isolation in space travel, compared to historic journeys such as Christopher Columbus's quest for the New World.

To make sure that the crew embarking on such a mission is perfectly suited, NASA investigated the social constitution required to function in such difficult circumstances.

It was inspired by teams working in isolated conditions, such as fishing camps in Alaska or expeditions to Antarctica, and one particular role has proved crucial.

"The groups work best when they have someone who assumes the role of class clown," said Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, a researcher at the University of Florida who has immersed himself in such teams.

"These are people who have the ability to bring everyone together, fill the gaps when tensions arise and really lift morale."

This is a pattern he has observed repeatedly during his four summers with Russian, Polish, Chinese and Indian teams at the South Pole.

Taking an important historical example, the anthropologist refers to Adolf Lindstrom, the cook who accompanied the famous polar explorer Roald Amundsen and who was noted for his good humor.

In his diary, Amundsen himself stated that Lindstrom had "rendered more important and valuable services to the Norwegian polar expedition than any other man".

"A mission on Mars will need a personality similar to Lindstrom, a person who can break the tension can bring people together," said Dr. Johnson, who presented his latest findings on social roles in the world. American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC.

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However, he noted that although the clown may have many natural talents, he would need to make every effort to embark on such an important mission.

"Being funny will not be enough to land the job for someone," he said. "They must also be excellent scientists and engineers and be able to successfully complete a rigorous training program."

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