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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 the lack of attractiveness also introduces some limitations when it comes to the human body and mind.

Short spaceflights have gone from the early Mercury and Apollo missions to staying six months or more aboard the International Space Station. The floating lab has been the perfect backdrop for scientists trying to understand what really happens to every aspect of the human body in the space environment – radiation, gravity, everything.

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

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

As NASA plans to return humans to the Moon and eventually land on Mars through the Artemis program, there is growing interest in understanding the effects that can occur from extended travel through deep space.

The big question some scientists are asking is whether people are mentally and emotionally prepared for such a big leap. In short, how do we deal with it?

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a Study 2021 He had participants live in a simulation of weightlessness for about two months by resting in a special bed with their heads tilted down at a 6-degree angle. The tilt creates a vertical shift of the body fluids that astronauts experience without 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, in one session or in five-minute intervals, could prevent negative effects. While study participants experienced an initial cognitive decline on their tests, it stabilized and did not last for 60 days.

But the speed with which they learned about feelings generally deteriorated. During the tests, they saw their facial expressions as angry rather than happy or neutral.

“Astronauts on long space missions will, like study participants, spend long periods of time in microgravity confined to a small space with a few other astronauts,” said study author Matthias Basner, professor in the university’s department of psychiatry. Pennsylvania Perlman. Faculty of medicine.

“The astronauts’ ability to correctly ‘read’ each other’s emotional expressions is critical to effective teamwork and mission success. Our results suggest that their ability to do so may be affected over time.”

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

A separate study 2021, published in ActaspaceHe 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—outer 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.

Candice Alfano, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston, and her team designed the checklist as a self-reported 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 beginning to the end of the nine-month stay with no “rebound” effect, even as they prepared to return home.

Participants also used less effective strategies for promoting positive emotions.

“Interventions and countermeasures aimed at promoting positive emotions can be necessary to reduce psychological risks in extreme circumstances,” Alfano said.

Protecting explorers when they are away from home

Helping astronauts stay healthy while on their adventures away from home is an important goal NASA’s Human Research Program† In the past, the program has developed countermeasures to help astronauts cope with muscle and bone loss, such as daily exercise on the space station.

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

And when they’re done with work, they can spend time together watching movies or enjoying recreational activities to counteract feelings of isolation.

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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. And the frequent contact with Mission Control and loved ones on Earth will become more turbulent the further away from Earth.

Astronauts celebrate record-breaking Chilean harvest in space with taco night

“We need to make sure we have some kind of individual protocol and things that the crew has to do,” Alexandra Whitmer, an element scientist with the Human Research Program, said during an interview with CNN in 2021. We have the people who are going to be on the job.”

While some crew members can bring the excitement and satisfaction of working on science experiments, others may need to tinker with other tasks. Previous search is already selected The main features that may be required in a deep space explorerLike self-reliance and problem solving.

One of the amazing discoveries on the space station is how food – and growing crops – boosts crew morale while maintaining a very important tangible connection to home.

avoid & # 39;  time deviation & # 39;  Life in space could help astronauts thrive on Mars
It is not surprising that Space food should be a safe and stable energy source And it still tastes good. But actively growing vegetables was a rewarding and enjoyable experience for past crews on the space station.
The astronauts reported their devotion to caring for the leafy plants, radishes and hatching hot pepper And watching the plants thrive, eventually producing an edible abundance.

HRP scientists wondered if this sense of complacency could take it another step forward. When astronauts are like Scott Kelly or Christina Koch have returned to Earth after long spaceflights and talked about not being able to 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 marbleEven if it is hidden from view.