High Living

cartoon rocketship flies up, behind the side titles1. Wild blue beyonder4. Psychos in space5. Space travel is healthy2. Bodily blues3. Dangers of osteoporosis



















Mission 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 lockers.
Courtesy NASA
























What 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.










































The wind sculpted these ice balls into an Antarctic "Earth-art" sculptural installation.
K. Sheridan, copyright Australian Antarctic Division, used by permission.



Head ache
Let's 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 sanity.

Family woes
Taking 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." Inability to help in a family emergency  can make a voyager feel anxious  and inadequate.
Suedfeld, 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."

Reentry after 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."

Just as the dealer leads a blackjack table, the commander deals the cards on a space mission. The astronaut brings the sticks to his open mouth, eating from a tray holding six plastic-wrapped edible objects.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.

The situation 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.

Psychosomatic ills
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.

Lowered immunity 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 repeated. Two bright red, tracked vehicles stand on the flat snow. A parka-clad fellow looks at the camera.Life 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."

Heloise's hints for space cadets
What do experts advise about staying sane in space?

Go on stage. To break the boredom, Suedfeld notes that some navy ships on long voyages staged operas, plays, lectures and athletic contests.

Shock 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 intervals.

Change the d├ęcor. Here's something they probably already do at those Vegas hotels: project different colors or scenes on the walls to cut boredom. cartoon of a record, music notes, stars....The 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.

Sing me a song. Individual sound systems could play space-oriented music like Beethoven's moonlight sonata or Led Zepplin "Stairway to Heaven."

Take 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.

Pray for privacy. It would help if astronauts could retire to a private world, says Suedfeld, "in a way that did not make others hostile."

Bluish-white snow balls are strewn across the flat snowscape. Two mountains in the background have vertical faces, the third is pyramidal.Since 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?

    The Why Files     There are 1 2 3 4 5 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search