• Question: How do you prepare the austronauts for the psychological challenges they may face in space?

    Asked by Milly and Emily to Anne, Beth, COLFlight, Jon, Tom on 4 Oct 2015. This question was also asked by Sheldon Cooper, SpaldingHighSchool9S, Gravity Girl.
    • Photo: Beth Healey

      Beth Healey answered on 4 Oct 2015:

      Hi Milly and Emily!

      Part of the preparation is training with the Human Behavior and Performance team at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne. Our Antarctic crew also received this training. It taught us about each other and some of the challenges we could expect working in an isolated team for such a long period of time.

      A lot of my research out here in Concordia is looking at the psychological effects of this experience on the crew. For example we make a weekly video diary which is analysed, wear watches which record where and with who we like to spend our time and how this changes over time. We are also doing a test every week which the astronauts on the ISS are also doing which looks at how quickly we can perform simple tests.

    • Photo: Columbus Flight Directors

      Columbus Flight Directors answered on 5 Oct 2015:

      COL FD (Simon) Hi Milly and Emily,

      One follow on from Beth…..

      The astronauts on ISS also currently have one private conference a fortnight with a psychologist. It appears in the astronauts timeline as “PPC” where the crew can discuss confidentially any issues they maybe facing.

      I see the field of psychological support as one of the biggest challenges to any deep space mission that humans will undertake in the future (ie a mission to Mars). Right now the astronauts have a big psychological advantage in that all they have to do is look out of a window on ISS and they can see the Earth below; they can be back on Earth in an emergency scenario within a few hours (using the Soyuz vehicles which are always attached to the ISS) and they can call anyone they want in their free time with the IP phone. None of these will be available to a future crewmember going on a mission to Mars where even real time communications are likely to be delayed by a few minutes.

      That is why the research that Beth is doing is so important. In fact Beth in Antartica right now is even more isolated than any Astronaut has ever been in the history of space exploration (including Apollo 13!).

      If you ever get a chance to read the “Red Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the main characters in the first expeditions to Mars is a psychologist.