Alignment of Higher-Order Goals: Addressing Issues of Increasing Complexity

Higher-order goals help integrate issues of complexity within and across organizations. A powerful example of this in the setting of outer space can be seen when examining the history of crewed space stations over the last half century. The first crewed space station was Salyut 1, launched by the Soviet Union in 1971 (https://; htm). Six Salyut space stations followed as each station was launched complete with all supplies and experimental equipment; once expended, these stations were then abandoned. These stations represented both a primary focus for the Soviet Space Program following the race to the moon and a lasting legacy of program success. It was during this era, in 1975, when the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (referred to by the Soviets and later Russians as Soyuz-Apollo) was conducted. Though this was a stand-alone program of collaboration between two competing superpowers, it represented a significant collaboration both politically and technically. Some have described this project as the formal end to the space race that began with Sputnik in 1957 (see Samuels, 2005), but the logistical, political, and organizational challenges that were addressed and overcome were to be a harbinger of future cooperation and collaboration.

The Salyut stations were then followed by space station Mir, launched by the Soviet Union in 1986 and operated by the Soviet and later by the Russian space programs. Mir was the first modular space station, was larger and more massive than any of its predecessors, and offered significant opportunity for international cooperation. The feat of assembling and launching a long-term space station is a technologically and monetarily daunting undertaking and one that many other international space agencies at the time could have not realized on their own. However, the decision to transition Mir to a space station inhabited by astronauts from multiple countries helped overcome ever increasing issues of complexity including operations, logistics for training, scheduling, etc. and perhaps most notably, cost. Over the course of Mir’s 15-year life, it became an international space home to over 125 cosmonauts and astronauts representing over 12 different countries over the course of 17 space expeditions, including 28 long-term crews ( As a result of the many successes and lessons learned during its operation, Mir paved the way for its successor, the International Space Station (ISS).

ISS presented even greater technological and operational challenges and included multiple partners in its design, development, and construction. As of January 2018, over 320 individuals representing 18 different countries have stayed on board, with contributions (either through modules or robotics) from NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency ( html). Missions on ISS can last 6 months or even longer, with a handful of astronauts living on board for upwards of a year. Such individuals will typically train for 18-24 months, spending a significant portion of their training away from home, often training at other international partner locations. In addition, the ISS crews are often comprised of six individuals, with three individuals rotating out approximately every 3 months. These additional mission-related factors in both coordination and logistical operations of crew training and composition among international partners (and their direct impacts on other important factors like team cohesion and collaboration) highlight the magnitude of complexity the mutual partnership of the ISS creates for successful operations and mission execution.

And yet, this international partnership has successfully completed 58 Expedition missions to date ( despite ever increasing complexities in mission design and logistical considerations for the selection, training, and support of the astronaut crew. Here again we see the power of higher-order goals helping to align efforts from the international partners to make these expeditions possible. Specifically, we posit that the international partners’ ability to address these complexities is due to their ability to align both within teams (i.e., within complex individual national space agencies) and within the overarching multiteam system (MTS) (i.e., the international partnership at large) (Marks, DeChurch, Mathieu, Panzer, & Alonso, 2005). If supported, this alignment and focus on the higher-order goal will continue to be critical (both within each agency and within the overarching MTS) to future success of international spaceflight collaborations. This is particularly true when considering that longer-duration missions, such as to lunar stations or expeditions to the planet Mars, hold the potential for an exponential increase in complexity. For such missions, their future success will entail additional factors that must be considered including delayed communications between ground control and the flight crew, a paradigmatic shift for autonomous operations for the flight crews, and of course, additional physiological and psychological risks to the crew for deep space exploration.

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