Developing a creative problem-solving model to help researchers assess astronauts for their mission to Mars

Due to limited communication, lack of resupply, and little to no evacuation opportunities, future long distance exploration missions to space will require astronauts to act with greater autonomy than past and present missions.

The goal of this creative problem-solving model is to help researchers build tasks and analyze metrics produced from the results of astronaut trainings in simulations.


Researcher, Product Designer, Photographer


Farhan Ahmed, Sarina Vij, Vicky Sun, Joshua Winfrey


3 months work in progress



overview of nasa

Design and test a system for Mars mission crews and researchers to simulate the unexpected

A spacecraft floating above a red planet in space

Every crewed spaced mission to date has been largely controlled from Earth by Mission Control. When an anomaly occurs, over 80 ground-based system experts with 600+ years of total experience stand ready to respond immediately. These experts act quickly to detect, diagnose, and respond to the problem to restore the vehicle and crew to a safe state.

However, future Mars mission crew, comprising around four astronauts, will face a 44-minute round-trip communication delay, necessitating rapid responses to time-critical anomalies that were traditionally handled by a team 20 times their size.

my role

I am currently researching and building a creative problem-solving model that will build the tasks and produce metrics we need for researchers.

Along with research, I will be developing the design system needed to help researchers and prototyping any physical and digital aspects we have for the system as well.

Challenge with a new paradigm shift

A 40+ minute round-trip communication delay, a 1900% decrease in experience and expertise, solving for the unexpected


How might we design a system to enable researchers to study creative problem solving and test crew members on the skills required to respond to anomalous events without limiting the training to rehearsed responses to specific events?

To understand what I'm working with, I first had to understand NASA and how this problem is unlike anything that has happened before. Thus, I started looking into the history of the organization and how creative problem solving is a key component in helping future astronauts go to Mars.

major anomalies at nasa



analogous domains and why this problem is unique

All known analog missions in analogous domains rely on mitigations that are unavailable in deep space

Every analogous domain while similar in some cases, have ways to reduce the risk. For example, pilots operate with a small team, but they do not suffer from long duration missions and high communication delays. Antarctic explorers do have longer duration missions with a lack of communication, but they are able to bring a large team of experts to combat any issues that arise.

how to creatively problem solve

Combining various frameworks, models, and assessments of creative problem solving from different experts to create one that works for space flight

In addition to analogous domain research, I've also looked into people who formalized an approach to creative problem solving, such as Alex Osborn. From there, I continued to explore different frameworks and assessments of creative problem solving to slowly build a version of my own to address the difficulties of long duration exploration space flight.

I interviewed other professions, such as designers, engineers, and game developers, to ask how they creatively solve problems.

Building a deep space specific creative problem solving model to help researchers assess tasks with metrics

next steps

There are still more interviews to conduct, analogous domains to analyze, and models to assess!

The research is far from over, and I have my team with me to tackle this very meta scenario of solving creative problem solving for the mission to Mars.