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Preparing astronauts for the mental and emotional challenges of deep space

Preparing astronauts for the mental and emotional challenges of deep space

But the floating freedom offered by zero gravity also introduces a number of limitations when it comes to the human body and mind.

Short spaceflights since the first Mercury and Apollo missions have turned into stays of six months or more aboard the International Space Station. The floating lab has been the perfect backdrop for scientists trying to figure out what really happens to every aspect of the human body in the space environment – radiation, lack of gravity, everything.

“What on earth did you miss the most when you were away for a year?” asked Mason Kelly.

“The weather, of course,” Kelly said. Rain, sun and wind.” “And then I miss the people … who are important to you, you know, and your family, and your friends.”

As NASA plans to return humans to the Moon and possibly land on Mars through the Artemis program, there is a growing interest in understanding the implications of prolonged deep space travel.

The big question that some scientists have asked is whether humans are mentally and emotionally prepared for such a big leap. In short: how are we going to tackle this?

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a Study 2021 Participants lived about two months in a weightlessness simulation by resting in a special bed with their heads tilted at a 6-degree angle. The tilt creates a forward movement of the body fluids that astronauts experience in the absence of gravity.

Participants were regularly asked to take cognitive tests designed for astronauts, covering memory, risk taking, emotion recognition, and spatial orientation.

The researchers wanted to test whether trying artificial gravity for 30 minutes a day, either all at once or in five-minute bouts, could prevent negative effects. While study participants experienced initial cognitive decline during their tests, this did not last for 60 days.

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But the speed with which they realized emotions generally deteriorated. When tested, they were more likely to see facial expressions as angry rather than happy or neutral.

“Astronauts on long space missions, just like the research participants, will spend significant amounts of time in microgravity, confined to a small space with a few other astronauts,” said study author Matthias Basner, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychiatry. Perelman. School of Medicine.

“The astronauts’ ability to correctly ‘read’ the emotional expressions of others will be of paramount importance to effective teamwork and mission success. Our results suggest that their ability to do this may be impaired over time.”

In the study, it was not clear whether this impairment resulted from simulating the weightlessness or confinement and isolation that the participants experienced for 60 days.

A separate study from 2021, published in Acta AstronauticsHe developed a mental health checklist based on the stressors faced by astronauts — which is also shared by those who spend months at research stations in Antarctica.

These two extreme environments—space and the edge of the world—create a lack of privacy, changing cycles of light and dark, confinement, isolation, monotony, and prolonged separation from family and friends.

University of Houston psychology professor Candice Alfano and her team designed the checklist as a self-reporting way to track these mental health changes. The biggest change people reported in the two Antarctic stations was a decrease in positive feelings from the start of their nine-month stay to the end of their stay without a “rebound” effect even as they prepared to return home.

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Participants also used less effective strategies for stimulating positive emotions.

“Interventions and countermeasures aimed at promoting positive emotions may be key to reducing psychological risks in extreme circumstances,” Alfano said.

Protecting explorers away from home

Helping astronauts maintain their mental acuity and well-being when venturing away from home is a major goal of theirs. NASA’s Human Research Program. In the past, the program has developed countermeasures to help astronauts combat muscle and bone loss, such as daily exercises on the space station.

Researchers are actively exploring the idea of ​​how purposeful work can bring mission crews together. When astronauts work As a team, whether on the space station or in a Mars simulator The environment on Earth, their cooperation has a common goal.

And after work is done, they can spend time together watching movies or enjoying recreational activities to combat feelings of isolation.

However, a mission to Mars, which could take months or years depending on the design of the spacecraft, can lead to a sense of monotony and confinement. Frequent contact with the mission control center and loved ones on the ground will be increasingly interrupted the further away from Earth.

Astronauts celebrate the record-breaking chili crop in space with taco night

“We need to make sure we have individual types of protocols and things to do for the crew,” Alexandra Whitmer, an element scientist with the Human Research Program, said in a 2021 interview with CNN. “It’s really important for us to understand the people who are going to be on this mission.”

While some crew members may derive excitement and fulfillment from working on science experiments, others may need to tinker with other tasks. Previous search is already selected Key Features Deep Space Explorers May NeedLike independence and problem solving.

An astonishing discovery on the space station is how food — and growing crops — helps lift crew morale while maintaining a very important tangible connection to home.

avoid "time warp"  Living in space could help astronauts thrive on Mars
It is not surprising that Space food should be a safe and stable source of nutrients And always good taste. But actively growing vegetables was a rewarding and delicious experience for the former space station crews.
The astronauts reported how satisfied they were with the interest in green, leafy plants, radishes, and hatching Pepper And watching the plants thrive, which ultimately results in the production of an edible bounty.

Scientists from the Human Research Program wondered if this sense of accomplishment could be carried forward. When astronauts love Scott Kelly or Christina Koch is back on Earth after long spaceflights, and they say they can’t wait to feel the rain or the ocean waves again.

Guided imagery and virtual reality capabilities may be a necessary part of future deep space flights to remind astronauts of their sensory connection to “blue marble’, even when he recedes from view.