Preparing astronauts for deep space mental and emotional challenges

But the floating freedom granted by the lack of attractiveness reveals many limitations in the human body and mind.

Short space travel has increased from early Mercury and the Apollo missions to six months or more on the International Space Station. The Floating Lab has become the perfect backdrop for scientists on what actually happens in every aspect of the human body in the space environment – radiation, zero gravity, everything.

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

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

As NASA plans to bring humans back to the moon and eventually land on Mars via the Artemis program, there is growing interest in understanding the effects that could occur during long-distance deep space travel.

The big question some scientists have asked is whether humans are mentally and emotionally ready for such a big jump. In a nutshell: How are we going to deal with this?

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In a 2021 study, participants survived about two months of simulated weightlessness by resting in a special bed with their head tilted at a 6-degree angle. The tilt creates a vertical displacement of body fluids that astronauts experience in weightlessness.

Participants were regularly asked to take cognitive tests designed for astronauts, covering memory, taking risks, recognizing emotions and spatial adaptations.

The researchers wanted to test whether trying artificial gravity for 30 minutes a day, either once or in a five-minute fight, could counteract the negative effects. If study participants experience an early cognitive decline during their experiment, it becomes stable and does not last 60 days.

But the speed at which they marked the feeling usually gets worse. During the test, they found the facial expressions to be angry, not happy or neutral.

“Astronauts on long space missions, like many research participants, will spend a long time in microgravity, confined to a small space with a few other astronauts,” said study author Matthias Basner, MD, a professor in the university’s psychiatry department. Pennsylvania Perelman. School of Medicine.

“The ability of astronauts to ‘read’ the mental expression of others correctly will be paramount for effective teamwork and mission success. Our results suggest that their ability to do so may be affected over time.”

In the study, it was unclear whether this weakness was due to simulated hypogravity or captivity and isolation, which participants tolerated for 60 days.

A separate 2021 survey published in Espace Actail created a mental health checklist based on the stresses astronauts face – shared by those who have spent 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 darkness, captivity, isolation, loneliness and prolonged separation from family and friends.

Candice Alfano, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston, and her team designed the checklist as a self-reporting tool for tracking these mental health changes. The biggest change reported by people at the two Antarctic stations was the loss of a positive feeling of position for nine months from start to finish that was ready to return home without any ‘rebound’ effect.

Participants also used less effective strategies to promote positive emotions.

“Interventions and countermeasures aimed at promoting positive emotions may therefore be essential to reduce emotional risk in extreme situations,” Alfano said.

Protecting explorers away from home

Helping astronauts stay intelligent and healthy during their adventures away from home is a major goal of NASA’s human research program. In the past, this program has created countermeasures to help astronauts deal with muscle and bone loss, such as daily exercises on the space station.

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

And when they finish work, they can spend time together watching movies or enjoying fun activities to cope with the feeling of loneliness.

However, an expedition to Mars, which can take months or years depending on the design of the spacecraft, can lead to feelings of loneliness and captivity. And mission control and frequent communication with loved ones on Earth will become more turbulent as you move away from Earth.

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Alexandra Whitmer, a scientist at the Human Research Program Elements, told CNN in a 2021 interview, “We need to make sure we have some kind of personal protocol and things for the crew. It’s really important for us to understand those who will participate in this mission.”

While some crew members may bring excitement and fulfillment by working on science experiments, others may have to tinker with other tasks. Previous searches have already selected key features that may be required in a deep space explorer, such as autonomy and troubleshooting.

One of the amazing discoveries of the space station is how food – and growing culture – boosts the morale of the crew while maintaining a vital practical connection with the home.

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It is not surprising that space food should be a safe and stable source of nutrition and it always tastes good. But actively cultivating vegetables is a fruitful and enjoyable experience for previous space station crews.
Astronauts explain how to care for green leafy plants, radishes and hatching Look at the pepper and see the improvement of the plant, which eventually turns into an edible grace product.

HRP scientists thought that this feeling of complacency could be taken a little further. When like astronauts Scott Kelly or Christina Koch talked about not being able to wait for a long spaceflight to return to Earth and feel the rain or the waves again.

Guided imagery and the power of virtual reality may be a necessary part of future deep space flights to remind astronauts of their sensitive connection with the “blue marble” even though it is out of sight.

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