specialist Ellison Onizuka trying to eat with chopsticks on the shuttle
Discovery. One food tray floats on his lap, a second is attached to the
goes around comes around. The Hagglunds over-snow vehicle would be a welcome
sight to a stranded researcher.
Eric Szworak, copyright Australian
Antarctic Division, used by permission.
wind sculpted these ice balls into an Antarctic "Earth-art" sculptural
K. Sheridan, copyright Australian
Antarctic Division, used by permission.
face it, space travel can bonk your brain, not just your bod. Between
boredom, claustrophobia, sullen roommates, and the odd mutinous underling,
we'd give three-to-one odds that long-term space travel can threaten your
a long trip away from the family can be tough. "That you leave people
you love and are familiar with," says Peter Suedfeld, professor of psychology
at the University of British Columbia. "Their behavior and emotional
reactions you can predict, and we generally feel comfortable when we
know how someone will react."
who has studied space psychology and conditions at Antarctic camps,
says that while radio communication helps maintain family ties, it can
also backfire. "When something bad happens at home, a few decades ago,
you wouldn't have heard about it. Now you hear almost immediately, but
in many cases there's nothing you can do to help. It just makes the
voyager feel anxious, sad, frustrated and inadequate."
a long trip can be tough on a marriage, observes Suedfeld, who has advised
NASA on the psychology of space travel. The family "has restructured
itself, has new ways of making decisions and doing things. The voyager
returns and usually expects that things will pick up exactly where they
were, but it's not like that, and there's a period of mutual readjustment
that can be quite difficult."
the dealer leads a blackjack table, the commander deals the cards on
a space mission. But
Suedfeld says leaders lack the normal organizational support and "real
power to punish or reward... The most you can do is threaten to punish
when you get back."
A good leader
must adapt to the circumstances, he adds. "You'll have a democratic
structure most of the time, with a sudden switch to a much more autocratic
leadership style" when events dictate.
favors neither democratic leaders who can't take the reins in an emergency
nor autocrats who end up shaping argumentative, hostile teams. The leader's
personality is even more important than on Earth, Suedfeld concludes.
Flexibility and the ability to change style trump rigidity.
State of mind can
affect the immune system, and it turns out that the stress of isolation
may damage the ability to fight infectious disease. Many Antarctic residents
show a decline in T-cells, the immune system's "killer cells," says
Antarctic doctor Desmond Lugg.
That may sound
alarming, but he adds, "We don't know the significance of it. We have
not seen any clinical disease, but whether it has a long-term effect,
I don't know." The answer may come from an ongoing search of health
records of Australians who have "overwintered" in the Antarctic.
could spread disease. With certain herpes viruses, Lugg says, "As immunity
goes down, the amount of virus in urine or saliva rises. Once again
we don't know the significance of this: If I'm a carrier of a virus,
am I going to infect you?"
Week after week,
month after month, the only "entertainment" was the same stories endlessly
in countless Antarctic expeditions was more boring than a poker game
where a dealer distributes only deuces. Except for electronic entertainment,
that kind of boredom is also in prospect for long space missions.
The best stories
are told early on, and from there, staying sane is no easier than beating
a full house with a pair of fives. "There's a tendency in small, confined
groups to disclose things very quickly, you get to know each other quite
well," says Suedfeld. "Over a two or three year trip to Mars, you will
get pretty bored with the company."
hints for space cadets
What do experts advise about staying sane in space?
on stage. To break the boredom, Suedfeld notes that some navy ships
on long voyages staged operas, plays, lectures and athletic contests.
me. Russian supply rockets carried care packages to Mir's long-term
inhabitants, with favorite foods, family photos, videotaped messages,
books, and, for all we know, a deck of cards. On a long flight, resupply
would be impossible, but the packages could be stowed and opened at
the décor. Here's something they probably already do at those Vegas
hotels: project different colors or scenes on the walls to cut boredom.
suggestion comes from Lawrence Palinkas, a University of California
at San Diego professor of family and preventive medicine who has studied
the psychology of space flight for NASA.
me a song. Individual sound systems could play space-oriented music
like Beethoven's moonlight sonata or Led
Zepplin "Stairway to Heaven."
a hike. Spacewalking may be necessary just to break the routine. Antarctic
residents, for example, sometimes feel the urge to leave their huts
in winter, no matter how cold, dangerous and awkward that is.
for privacy. It would help if astronauts could retire to a private world,
says Suedfeld, "in a way that did not make others hostile."
NASA has staged few long missions, many of these concerns were less relevant
to it than the blazing temperature outside a Las Vegas casino is to gamblers
in the air-conditioned interior. Now that the space station is in operation,
however, and with Mars missions under contemplation, dealing with psychology
becomes much more pressing.
What is the upside
of space travel?