Sunday, August 18, 2019

Insights into Teamwork and Collaboration

Hans Amundson--AMASE visionary
Andrew Steele, Steelie--the Soul of AMASE
AMASE began as a small, tight-knit group of scientists, artists, and PR people from around the world. Hans Amundsen had the vision to create AMASE and managed it peacefully for many years. When we received NASA funding with Steelie as Principal Investigator, the dynamic changed. Hans became Expedition Leader, and Steelie, Chief Scientist. The management team was formed, met every year in either the US or Europe to plan the next year’s expedition. We loved each other. Steelie and Hans were like brothers. We developed Rules of the Road assuring that we were “One for all, and All for One.”
         Things changed when some groups had better success and followed through with abstracts to international conferences and drafts of manuscripts. A few of the scientists never shared their data for one reason or another. Whether this was fear of not getting funded or scooping one instrument team versus another is not clear. By 2009, the team had seemed to me to be falling apart. There were those people who were seasoned Arctic veterans and those that weren’t hardy Arctic explorers. I was never sure at this point in time where I lay. Money, and funding, press coverage, and relationships with NASA and ESA often seemed to be more important than science and collaboration. The last AMASE in which Carnegie folks participated in ended on a disappointing note. I was glad that I did not join that year.
         The strong personal bonds built in 2003 had been reduced to thin threads. Communication was strained. I felt sad to hear of the troubles between individuals and groups. This was one of my favorite endeavors of my career, some of my very favorite colleagues. We gently parted ways. Hans and Steelie entered a silent truce. NASA’s Mars Science Lab with its rover Curiosity launched and the instrument folks and engineers shifted their efforts there. Where did things go wrong?
         Hans and Steelie have strong personalities, sizeable egos, and direct visions of where they want to take their lives. Amazingly (or AMASEingly), their personalities, egos, and visions intersected for a time producing the success of AMASE. As their visions diverged, the personalities (and egos) could not sustain the collaboration. While I remain close to Steelie, often we say as science brother and sister, I am no longer in direct contact with Hans about what we discovered that still needs to be published. Nearly ten years after the last official AMASE, I recall those great moments of seeing walruses and polar bears in the wild, the thrill of fording an Arctic river, and hiking across glaciers.
         Did we accomplish what set off to do? Yes. AMASE contributed significantly to the training of scientists and engineers currently involved in active Mars science and in planning Mars 2020. Paul Mahaffey, SAM’s principal investigator, brought an international team of younger scientist with him, some of whom were very field savvy and others who had little experience picking up a sample and analyzing it. This talented group (Jen Stern, Oliver Botta, Jen Eigenbrode, Pan Conrad, Inge Los Ten Kate, Amy McAdam) cut their analytical teeth in funky labs on the R/V Lance using a primitive prototype of SAM. The experience surely has contributed to the overwhelming success of this team with its dozens of Science and Nature papers from Curiosity.
Rover Team: Ashley Stoupe, Mike Garrett, Paulo Younse, and Liane Benning, Svalbard 2007
         Although a different rover came on AMASE, the rover engineering team from JPL had to learn what their system would do under much more challenging conditions than they had previously experienced. As observers, the rest of the AMASE group watched this team struggle and overcome personal differences in style and talent. All of them continue at JPL, driving rovers on Mars. Blake’s CheMin team sashayed into Svalbard with a strong prototype and a coordinated team. They left with a stronger idea as to how their instrument could integrate with the search for life. Their work remains a cornerstone of Curiosity.
         Students were trained and postdocs tested. They learned to trust themselves in a remote, hostile environment and to get along on the tight quarters of a research vessel. I think its fair to say that they will never go on a better field expedition than AMASE in their lifetime—unless they make the trip to Mars. Further, they rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of astrobiology, exchanging ideas, working out problems. There is no better way to engage and retrain young scientists than a voyage like this.

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