Conflict in Close Quarters
Case prepared by Steven L. McShane*
Graduate School of Management, The University of Western Australia
A team of psychologists at Moscow's Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) wanted to learn more about the dynamics of long-term isolation in space. This knowledge would be applied to the International Space Station, a joint project of several countries that would send people into space for more than six months. It would eventually include a trip to Mars taking up to three years.
IBMP set up a replica of the Mir space station in Moscow. They then arranged for three international researchers from Austria, Canada, and Japan to spend 110 days isolated in a ...view middle of the document...
“We decorated for Christmas, because I'm the kind of person who likes to host people.”
New Year’s Eve Turmoil
Ironically, it was at one of those social events, the New Year's Eve party, that events took a turn for the worse. After drinking vodka (allowed by the Russian space agency), two of the Russian cosmonauts got into a fistfight that left blood splattered on the chamber walls. At one point, a colleague hid the knives in the station's kitchen because of fears that the two Russians were about to stab each other. The two cosmonauts, who generally did not get along, had to be restrained by other men. Soon after that brawl, the Russian commander grabbed Lapierre, dragged her out of view of the television monitoring cameras, and kissed her aggressively -- twice. Lapierre fought him off, but the message didn’t register. He tried to kiss her again the next morning.
The next day, the international crew complained to IBMP about the behavior of the Russian cosmonauts. The Russian institute apparently took no action against any of the aggressors, Instead, the institute’s psychologists replied that the incidents were part of the experiment. They wanted crew members to solve their personal problems with mature discussion, without asking for outside help. “You have to understand that Mir is an autonomous object, far away from anything,” Vadim Gushin, the IBMP psychologist in charge of project, explained after the experiment had ended in March. “If the crew can't solve problems among themselves, they can't work together.”
Following IBMP’s response, the international crew wrote a scathing letter to the Russian institute and the space agencies involved in the experiment. “We had never expected such events to take place in a highly controlled scientific experiment where individuals go through a multi-step selection process,” they wrote. “If we had known . . . we would not have joined it as subjects.” The letter also complained about IBMP’s response to their concerns.
Informed of the New Year's Eve incident, the Japanese space program convened an emergency meeting on January 2nd to address the incidents. Soon after, the Japanese team member quit, apparently shocked by IBMP’s inaction. He was replaced with a Russian researcher on the international team. Ten days after the fight – a little over a month after the international team began the mission -- the doors between the Russian and...