Samuel's Proposal for Training Missions
Samuel's Proposal for Training Missions, completed on March 29, 2010, was Samuel Baltz's second official proposal for Spacesim. It is still under consideration by the Commanders and Dr. Magwood. The proposal specifically deals with means of limiting the power of the Simulator Commander in Training Missions. Baltz felt that the role was given far too much power and relative importance, and that it was imperative that the other two branches of the mission be made proportionally more important. The proposal deals as much with warnings for Simulator Commanders as it does with rules to be implemented. The Proposal is reprinted below in its entirety.
Samuel's Proposal for Training Missions
Everything in this document points to one mandate, which I use my full weight as a one-time Simulator Commander in a training mission to term the Golden Rule of Simulators: Simulate, don't punish.
This proposal is less objective than most traditional Spacesim proposals; I have tried to shed my objectivity in favour of accurately relating the experiences of a member who has, in a very short time frame, been given control of every one of the three major branches of the mission, either in a main mission or in training missions. These are Mission Control, where I have been Flight Director, the Habitat, where I have been Habitat Commander, and the Simulators, where I have been Simulator Commander. In treating this proposal as a personal account I hope to vividly portray the issues at hand by relating my own experiences and how they affect the quality of the training mission. It is worth noting that even though I am relating my own experiences, nothing in this proposal relates to a single event and nothing in this proposal is directed at a single person. In every role I have ever served in at Spacesim I have been guilty of the indiscretions and mistakes pointed to below, and I am as much a cause of most of these problems as anyone. The perceived fault lies not in any member but in the nature of the current power structure. The purpose of a training mission is to make newer members accustomed to serving in command positions. This primarily means teaching them to comply with the Golden Rule, as well as furthering priorities like problem solving and training them to work as a team. Throughout my limited command in each branch of the mission, I have come to realize that, while Training Missions are effective tools for giving members experience, they are seriously lacking in how they prepare members for the reality of Spacesim’s Main Missions. Moreover, with a little work they could much more accurately portray a genuine space mission. It is my conclusion that the largest threat to the integrity of Training Missions is the seeming equality of the three groups listed above; specifically, the disproportionate emphasis placed on the role of the simulators. It was remarked upon multiple times by veteran astronaut and Mission Commander Maclean Rouble as well as Admiral Dr. Magwood during the Mission Daedalus Debriefing that perhaps the largest two threats to the success of a mission are the unity and cohesiveness of the crew aboard the habitat and the relationship between the habitat and mission control. These two relationships are critical to maintain and are extremely difficult to keep amiable, and one of the major purposes of training missions is to teach members who are new in command positions how to keep these relationships stable. The role of the simulators in this instance is to create disasters and then to step back and allow Mission Control and the Habitat to engineer a working solution. Often the simulators will give “diagnostics” to Mission Control, and thereby force exact communications between Mission Control and the Habitat. Here are a list of propositions for simulator restrictions and behaviour:
Proposals And Reasoning
- A major portion of the role of Habitat Commander is to make decisions regarding the safety of the crew. This allows them to override Mission Control’s direct orders, and should be used as sparingly as possible. However, it is a powerful avenue. As is, the simulators have a very real power to deny the Habitat Commander this privilege by threatening a disaster through MC CAPCOM; that is to say, by saying that if the Habitat Commander overrules Mission Control, they will face a second disaster (e.g. MC:"You can't run venting diagnostics on the hotlab." Hab:"Why not?" MC:"You can't do it." Hab:"Why not?" MC:"Because if you do, all the lights might go out! That's right! The lights in C+C might go out because of a power systems overload.". In this situation, quite similar to several I have actually seen, even the most hardened and comitted crew would fall completely out of the simulation, mentally cursing simulators who don't even begin to understand the habitat.). This is indescribably corrosive to both of the crucial relationships in the mission: if the Habitat Commander seems to have absolutely no power over the situation, then the crew will cease to trust them, and if Mission Control seems to be punishing the Habitat Commander then relations between MC and the Hab will degrade quickly and the Habitat Commander will no longer wish to relay any information. To avoid this situation I propose that simulators always either give or hint at the information necessary to solve any problem to Mission Control immediately after creating one. This way, Mission Control can appear helpful, and the Habitat Commander retains their power and the respect of the crew. This proposal is made under the assumption that the disaster is so unique that no procedures exist for it, and that the opinion of "Professors" is welcome in Mission Control.
- Upon creating a disaster, the simulators cannot hold back information until the habitat asks for assistance. In an actual mission to space, Mission Control would not keep a solution for a serious problem until the habitat asked for it. This is not just problematic for mission integrity; it is patently ridiculous.
- Alpha duress should be kept to an absolute minimum. Incidents like the Green Water Incident and the Pink Water Incident are very good examples of alpha duress that brought the crew together and that had real and tangible solutions. However, anything that causes real stress for the crew should last for an absolute maximum of 5 minutes. Beyond that point the crew becomes less willing to take orders, they lose focus on the mission, and they pay less attention to their posts. Remember that this proposal is directed towards Training Missions. Longer periods of Alpha Duress on Main Missions are only natural, but incidents such as that discussed in Samuel's and Arrian's ES1 Reprimands are examples of extremely excessive Alpha Duress.
- Don’t get Mission Control to ask the habitat about a component just before you do something to it. Questions like “are you watching the camera to the airlock?” just before a hole is blown in the airlock are incredibly contrived, and immediately make the astronauts stop believing in the simulation. Remember, it is not mission control’s job to police things like this; if you tell the MC Commander to ask the astros a question, chances are it will happen.
- It has been expressed by multiple experienced simulator commanders that they punish the astronauts for failures aboard the habitat. This baffles me. First, it is extremely difficult to judge the behaviour of a habitat commander, given that every crew is completely different and every set of disasters requires a different solution. Second, I can guarantee that bad behaviour, “unprofessionalism” on CAPCOM, and lack of cooperation in space do not track with the number of asteroid collisions on the mission.
Finally, here is the core of my argument. Everything before this point is a suggestion for simulators, but the following are serious restrictions that I would like to see enforced by executives every time a training mission is run.
- Perhaps the largest issue with the past several training missions has been the sheer number of simulators. I was probably the greatest transgressor in this department; at one point I had more simulators than there were members of mission control. The power of a simulator is alluring, and most members would rather be a simulator than an MC staffer. The truth is, having more than a couple simulators is almost never necessary. Simulator commanders must learn to say “no”. I propose that the number of official simulators for a training mission be capped at 2, and that a maximum of 3 extra temporary simulators be pulled out of minor mission control positions for the duration of people-intensive events, like asteroid simulations. When the 5 or 10 minute event is over, they must be returned to mission control.
- The mezzanine is not a hang-out. If this is a bothersome misconception during work sessions, it is a blatant error during a Training Mission. If training missions are just held for astronauts and a couple of mission controllers, they will never accomplish their goal of training everyone. Because the simulator area is not tense, members tend to gather there just to chat. Members should be absolutely banned from the simulator area if they are not a simulator for the duration of the mission, and should instead be observers in Mission Control. There is no better spot to learn from than the Mission Control observation deck. Alternatively, less engaged members can sit in Keplernicus and finish part 2 of my EEPs Proposal.
- Finally, one area in which we have lost sight of reality is in the area of disasters. Disasters are an interesting, engaging, and necessary part of training missions. However, an actual space mission does not usually experience 3 or 4 asteroid collisions, a failure in life support, and a crazy magic solar flare of doom. I propose that we tone down the disasters to a maximum of 2 or 3 per mission, with one major one and a minor one. Some deviation in the number must be allowed so as to keep the astronauts on their toes, but the disaster count should never be unrealistically large.
- Any disaster must be accompanied by some hint from simulators. If you do not give a hint, do not compound the disaster just as it’s being solved. That isn’t interesting, that isn’t realistic, that’s just frustrating. If you must, wait a bit and make it a second disaster.
- Unless you’re killing the astros off because it’s the end of the mission, any disaster should be realistic and solvable.
- Keep alpha duress that causes actual stress or seriously bothers the crew down to a maximum of 5 minutes.
- Don’t draw attention to a component just before you do something relating to it.
- Never punish the astronauts for their behaviour.
- Absolute maximum of 2 official simmies, additional 3 temporary simmies for the duration of larger disasters.
- Absolutely no ascending the stairwell of the mezzanine during a training mission if you are not a simmie.
- Cut down on the disasters; two or three maximum per training mission
Having considered the current operation of training missions and their success in educating members, I fully believe that at least some of the preceding suggestions must be implemented. To allow simulator commanders free reign over the training mission is an admirable policy, but when that free reign begins to interfere with the success of the entire mission as a training endeavour and as a simulation, the reasoning begins to wear thin. I fully believe that these changes are necessary to create accurate and balanced missions that form the cornerstone of Spacesim’s training methods.