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?
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, like study participants, will spend extended periods of time in microgravity, confined to a small space with a few other astronauts,” said study author Matthias Basner, MD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry. University of Pennsylvania Perelman. 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.”
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.
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
Researchers are actively studying the idea of how purposeful work can bring 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 are done with work, they can watch movies or enjoy recreational activities together to counteract 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. And the frequent contact with Mission Control and loved ones on Earth will become more turbulent the further away from Earth.
“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.”
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.
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.