Preparing astronauts for the mental and emotional challenges of deep space

But the floating freedom that the lack of attractiveness provides also introduces some limitations when it comes to the human body and mind.

Short spaceflights have transformed from the early Mercury and Apollo missions to stays of six months or more aboard the International Space Station. The floating laboratory was the perfect backdrop for scientists trying to understand what is really happening to all aspects of the human body in the space environment – radiation, gravity, everything.

“What did you miss most about Earth when you were away for a year?” asked Mason Kelly.

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

While 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 arise from longer travel through deep space.

The big question that some scientists have asked is whether people are mentally and emotionally prepared for such a big leap. In short: how do we handle it?

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a study from 2021. He made participants live in simulated weightlessness for about two months by resting in a special bed with his head tilted down at a 6-degree angle. The inclination creates a vertical displacement of the body fluids that astronauts experience without gravity.

Participants were regularly asked to perform cognitive tests designed for astronauts that cover memory, risk-taking, emotion recognition, and spatial orientation.

The researchers wanted to test whether experiments with artificial gravity for 30 minutes a day, all at once or for five-minute periods, could prevent adverse effects. While study participants experienced an initial cognitive decline on their tests, it stabilized and did not last for 60 days.

But the rate at which the emotions were identified generally worsened. During the tests, they saw facial expressions as anger rather than happy or neutral.

“Astronauts on long space missions, like study participants, will spend longer periods of time in microgravity, limited to a small space with a few other astronauts,” said study author Matthias Basner, MD, professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Department of Psychiatry. University of Pennsylvania Perelman. Faculty of Medicine.

“Astronauts’ ability to correctly ‘read’ each other’s emotional expressions will be crucial 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 weakness was due to the simulated hypogravitation or the confinement and isolation that the participants experienced for 60 days.

A separate study from 2021, published in Acta Space, developed a mental health checklist based on the stressors astronauts face – which are 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, altered cycles of light and darkness, confinement, isolation, monotony and prolonged separation from family and friends.

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

Participants also used less effective strategies to promote positive emotions.

“Interventions and countermeasures aimed at promoting positive emotions can therefore be crucial in reducing psychological risks in extreme circumstances,” Alfano said.

Protecting explorers when you are away from home

Helping astronauts stay healthy and wholesome on their adventures away from home is an important goal of NASA’s human research program. In the past, the program has developed countermeasures to help astronauts combat muscle and bone loss, such as daily space station training.

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 a Mars simulator environment on earth, their cooperation towards a common goal.

And when they are done working, they can watch movies or enjoy leisure activities together to counteract the feeling of isolation.

However, a mission to Mars, which can take months or years depending on the design of the spacecraft, can lead to a sense of monotony and confinement. And frequent contact with Mission Control and loved ones on Earth will become more turbulent the farther we are from Earth.

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

“We have to make sure we have some sort of individual protocol and things that the crew has to do,” Alexandra Whitmer, an elemental scientist with the Human Research Program, said in an interview with CNN in 2021. “It’s really important. for us to have the people who will be on this mission. ”

While some crew members may bring excitement and satisfaction from working on scientific experiments, others may need to tinker with other tasks. Previous search is already selected. Key features that may be needed in a deep space explorer, such as self-confidence and troubleshooting.

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

avoid & # 39;  time deviation & # 39;  Life in space can help astronauts thrive on Mars
Not surprisingly, food in the room should be a safe and stable source of nutrition, and it still tastes good. But actively growing vegetables has been a rewarding and wonderful experience for previous crews on the space station.
The astronauts reported how faithful the care of green leafy plants, radishes and hatching Chili peppers And to see the plants thrive, which ultimately results in the production of an edible bounty.

HRP researchers wondered if this sense of complacency could be taken a step further. When astronauts are like Scott Kelly or Christina Koch have returned to Earth after long spaceflights and have talked about how they could not wait to feel the rain or the waves of the sea again.

Guided imagery and virtual reality capabilities could be a necessary part of future deep spaceflight to remind astronauts of their sensory connection to “blue marble, even when out of sight.

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