- By Ben Cober, Director of Business Development and Research
A recent article in the UK’s Daily Mail really caught my eye: NASA is looking for comedians.
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference, professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Jeffrey Johnson spoke on the topic of “Building a Winning Team for Missions to Mars.” Johnson explained:
‘Groups work best when they have somebody who takes on the role of class clown. These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear, and really boost morale. ‘We can all think of the person at work who fulfills this role, who makes us laugh and makes the job more enjoyable. People like being around them. 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. It’s vital you have somebody who can help everyone get along, so they can do their jobs and get there and back safely. It’s mission critical.”
In American pop culture, the idea of the “hilarious astronaut” is not all that far-fetched (I’m not letting go of the ‘rover’ joke…). 1994’s Apollo 13 has astronauts bantering back and forth regarding their imminent electrocution in space:
- Kevin Bacon: Ken, there’s an awful lot of condensation on these panels. What’s the story of them shorting out?
- Gary Sinise: Umm… We’ll just have to take that one at a time, Jack.
- Kevin Bacon: Like trying to drive a toaster through a car wash.
And the science fiction hit novel The Martian had Matt Damon’s wise-cracking Mars-settler lamenting a collection of disco music, celebrating himself as Mars’ first farmer using his own waste, or his excitement at “getting to fly around like Iron Man” after cutting the oxygen to his suit.
Professor Johnson continues:
“The reason Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen succeeded where Captain Scott failed in reaching the South Pole was because the Norwegians had a jolly ‘clown’ figure on their team. He had a cook named Adolf Lindstrom. People described him as being someone who laughed and was very jovial and very happy, an entertainer, keeping up people’s spirits. In Amundsen’s diary he said he had rendered greater service to the Norwegian polar expedition than any other man. He was the clown of that expedition. Scott’s expedition was radically different. They broke into cliques; they didn’t have a cohesive group. Astronauts going to Mars need a Lindstrom.”
So why are we talking about this on an attractions design website?
Because going to Mars is like building a theme park. No, hear me out. Both take years, if not decades of planning; and very large, multi-disciplined teams collaborating from the other side of the wall – and sometimes the world. Both have hundreds of thousands of tiny data points that need to be tracked, critical schedules that break down the goal if not strictly adhered to, and deeply-detailed budgets – where one butterfly flap of a dollar here may have a million dollar tidal wave over there. Each are filled with extremely talented people with universally unique skill sets, inspired as children to do something greater as adults, deeply relying on empathy to carefully map out and address “the user experience.” Lastly, both typically have audacious goals that some label impossible – maybe insane – yet break the current boundaries of technology and innovate to craft something once only dreamed of in fiction.
We’ll admit it – we employ class clowns. If we’re to achieve audacious, galaxy-exploring-level goals, each team may need at least one. We employ practical jokesters, pun mavens, yarn-spinners, and knee-slappers. But they’re the kind of knee slappers NASA would send to Mars.