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Going Beyond Global: The Journey to Mars and the Ultimate Expatriate Experience

Our world faces many tremendous challenges that will only be solved through international collaboration. The stemming of geopolitical conflict, global climate change, and world-wide health crises all will require the pooling of intellect and resources across national borders. However, perhaps no challenge is greater than extending the reach of humanity beyond the planet Earth through the colonization of Mars.

Traveling to Mars, our nearest neighbor, is no drive around the block. A one way trip to Mars will cover at least 33 million miles and the effects of micro-gravity and radiation will take a tremendous toll on the physical health of the astronauts (Reschke et al., 1998). In addition, close proximity to others, stress and boredom, and the journey into the unknown will test the limits of the most resilient individuals (Kanas et al., 2009).

But like the explorers and expatriates on Earth, the trip to Mars will be just the beginning.  The minimum time for a round trip to the Red planet will be 1000 days. Plans from space legend Buzz Aldrin and billionaire Elon Musk call for the permanent colonization of Mars, where some astronauts never come home. When arriving on Mars the first challenges will be disorientation and lack of sleep due to the lingering effects of microgravity. The astronauts will then be overwhelmed by a demanding workload to establish safe and habitable conditions, and finally, encounter the stress that arises from being isolated from family and friends and a restricted social contacts due to a small crew.

The symptoms experienced by Mars astronauts will look very familiar to those who have lived and worked abroad. The expatriate experience is often categorized by disorientation, sleep irregularities, home sickness, and lack of social stimulation (Ernst, 2016; Xu & Jordan, 2016). In many ways travel to Mars is no more than an extreme case of expatriation. Earthly expatriates and Mars astronauts will also share one of the greatest challenges of leaving home; understanding, predicting, and interacting with others from a different cultural background. The Mars mission will undoubtedly be an international endeavor that will utilize the talents of a culturally diverse support team which will need to innovate and problem solve in real time to support the crews traveling to an inhabit their new home. The crew members themselves will be culturally diverse, likely comprised of astronauts from Russia, China, Japan, the U.S., and other partner nations.

While the public messaging has suggested that overt conflict has not occurred on the international space station, stories from training suggest international conflict is a valid concern. Judith Lapierre served as a health sciences specialist on Sphinx-99, an International Space Station simulation. She reported that cultural differences in interpersonal interactions between the sexes caused great tension and ultimately led to a fist fight that bloodied the kitchen area of the capsule (Lapierre, 2009). In my work with the Mars mission through the Institute for Cross Cultural Management and the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute, I have heard many stories of strong disagreements over cultural norms of food, smells, hygiene, and communication. These cultural stressors will be the new normal for the expatriate crew to Mars.

In March of 2018, we will be joined by cultural experts such as Fons Trompenaars, Vas Taras, Michele Gelfand at the 2018 Cross Cultural Management Summit. In addition, participants at the Summit will take what they have learned and work together to solve case studies provided by the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute (BASI). These solutions will help inform the research agenda of BASI, and perhaps one day make the ultimate expatriate experience on Mars seem a little bit more like home.

HR Florida is proud to partner with the Florida Institute of Technology’s Cross Culture Management Summit.  We believe in continuing to provide professional development in global and cross cultural expertise.   As part of our partnership we have received deep discounted pricing for our HR Florida professionals and recertification credits.

Join us at the 2018 Cross Cultural Management Summit – March 22-24, 2018 – Caribe Royale Resort – Orlando Florida.





Dr. Griffith is the Executive Director of The Institute for Cross Cultural Management at the Florida Institute of Technology. Dr. Griffith provides coaching in global leadership and executive presentations, specializing in presentations conducted abroad. He is the co-editor of “Leading Global Teams”, “Critical Issues in Cross Cultural Management” and “Internationalizing the Organizational Psychology Curriculum”. He is the author of over 100 publications, presentations, and book chapters and has conducted funded research for the Department of Defense examining the assessment and development of cross-cultural competence. His work has been featured in Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal.




Ernst, W. (2016). On Being Insane in Alien Places: Case Histories from British India, c. 1800–1930. In Migration and Mental Health (pp. 61-84). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Kanas, N., Sandal, G., Boyd, J. E., Gushin, V. I., Manzey, D., North R, Leon GR, Suedfeld P, Bishop S, Fiedler ER, Inoue N (2009). Psychology and culture during long-duration space missions. Acta Astronautica, 64(7), 659-677.

Lapierre, J., Bouchard, S., Martin, T., & Perreault, M. (2009). Transcultural group performance in extreme environment: Issues, concepts and emerging theory. Acta Astronautica, 64(11), 1304-1313.

Reschke, M.F., Bloomberg, J.J., Harm, D.L., Paloski, W.H., Layne, C., & McDonald, V. (1998) Posture, locomotion, spatial orientation, and motion sickness as a function of space flight. Brain Research Reviews 28  102–117.

Xu, Q., & Jordan, L. (2016). Migration, labor market and wellbeing: Theories, policies and practice. MIGRANT WORKERS, 2.


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