If you thought lockdown for coronavirus has been difficult, consider this. In preparation for going back to the Moon or a mission to Mars, NASA wants volunteers to go on lockdown for eight more months. The idea is to develop technologies that ease the problems social isolation can cause. But first, NASA scientists need human test subjects who are ready to be confined.
The loneliness and claustrophobia of a long space flight can cause all sorts of problems. We might have found that hard to understand as observers, given how amazing it must be to explore space. But our recent experience of pandemic and quarantine has taught the world a little bit about that.
Social isolation can cause a long list of health problems, both physical and mental. In fact, it’s so intense that American Psychological Association says it can lead to premature death. Really. Loneliness can kill us. Not to mention causing depression, sleep problems, impaired thinking, decreased immunity and poor heart function.
That may be why NASA reassures us that its Human Research Program is committed to supporting astronaut health and performance. The HRP recently ran a 4 month study in 2019, where volunteers stayed in an environment designed to mimic the space mission. But NASA says there is more to learn about “the physiological and psychological effects of isolation and confinement on humans in preparation for Artemis exploration missions to the Moon and future long-duration missions to Mars.”
NASA has a job opening.
According to NASA’s posting, they are recruiting highly motivated people with a high level of education and/or military officer training. Applicants also need to speak both Russian and English. The six “astronaut-like” individuals who make the cut will be sent to the NEK facility in Moscow, Russia. Once there, the human test subjects will spend 8 months in a mock spacecraft.
What happened during the last analog mission? In July 2019 the six participants of the 4 month mission emerged from the Scientific International Research in a Unique terrestrial Station (SIRIUS)-19. The international crew of six participants, two Americans and four Russians, found that a strong team was the key to managing their lockdown.
NASA reported that they relied on each other and found ways to solve challenges. Working together, members with unique abilities found a way.
Crew member Anastasia Stepanova wrote in her blog, “(NEK is) where six people in a barrel have become colleagues, friends and almost family!” She also pointed out the power of laughter. “I began to observe the mood of the crew and noticed only one thing – stability. Jokes and laughter, activity, efficiency, support for each other, optimism and inner peace – all this has remained unchanged since the start of isolation.”
Those who want to apply for the next SIRIUS mission may have a better sense of what isolation means after facing coronavirus. Participants in this project will face a challenge, but the astronauts who go to Mars will face something much harder.