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posted by Dopefish on Friday April 04 2014, @06:28PM   Printer-friendly
from the at-least-women-will-live-on-venus dept.

When astronauts first began flying in space, NASA worried about "space madness," a mental malady they thought might arise from humans experiencing microgravity and claustrophobic isolation inside of a cramped spacecraft high above the Earth. Now Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic that NASA is hoping to find out what life on Mars does to the human emotional state by putting three men and three women in a 1,000-square-foot habitat shaped like a dome for four months. The volunteers in the second HI-SEAS mission a purposely tiny group selected out of a group of 700 applicants include, among others, a neuropsychologist, an aerospace engineer, and an Air Force veteran who is studying human factors in aviation. "We're going to stress them," says Kim Binsted, the project's principal investigator. "That's the nature of the study."

That test involves isolating the crew in the same way they'd be isolated on Mars. The only communication they'll be allowed with the outside world-that is to say, with their family and friends-will be conducted through email. (And that will be given an artificial delay of 20 minutes to simulate the lag involved in Mars-to-Earth communications.) If that doesn't seem too stressful, here's another source of stress: Each mission member will get only eight minutes of shower time ... per week. The stress will be compounded by the fact that the only time the crew will be able to leave their habitat-yurt is when they're wearing puffy, insulated uniforms that simulate space suits in the Hawaiian heat. Throughout the mission, researchers will be testing the subjects' moods and the changes they exhibit in their relationships with each other. They'll also be examining the crew members' cognitive skills, seeing whether-and how-they change as the experiment wears on. Binsted says the mission has gotten the attention of the TV world, but don't expect to see much inside-the-dome footage. "You wouldn't believe the number of producers who called us," says Binsted. "Fortunately, we're not ethically allowed to subject our crew to that kind of thing."

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  • (Score: 2) by Sir Garlon on Friday April 04 2014, @06:45PM

    by Sir Garlon (1264) on Friday April 04 2014, @06:45PM (#26327)

    Don't forget that the participants will be able to interact with each other. It would be more like a medium- or minimum-security prison than solitary confinement. Not even that, really, because presumably the study participants are selected to be *un*likely to rape and brutalize each other.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04 2014, @06:54PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04 2014, @06:54PM (#26329)

    I think the chance of staying sane will correlate strongly with increase in popuation size. Being stuck with the same 5 people for 2 years isn't good; being stuck with the same 50 people is better; 500 people, even more so.

    • (Score: 1) by Immerman on Friday April 04 2014, @07:12PM

      by Immerman (3985) Subscriber Badge on Friday April 04 2014, @07:12PM (#26333)

      500 people in a 1000 sq. foot dome? Give me solitary. 5 people would be bad enough.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05 2014, @01:33AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05 2014, @01:33AM (#26486)

        Makes me wonder what the minimum external dimensions would be for a holodeck.

        -- gewg_

        • (Score: 2) by chebucto on Saturday April 05 2014, @02:43PM

          by chebucto (36) on Saturday April 05 2014, @02:43PM (#26674) Journal

          They do address that in at least once; I can't remember which episode it was, but it involved a medical emergency that required Dr. Crusher to use the holodecks as emergency sickbays. At one point she comments that she is running out of room; although the holodecks appear to be of unlimited size, the number of people that can fit in a holodeck limited by the physical dimensions of the holodeck.

        • (Score: 1) by Immerman on Saturday April 05 2014, @02:59PM

          by Immerman (3985) Subscriber Badge on Saturday April 05 2014, @02:59PM (#26678)

          Well, if you assume complete sensory override and maximum naive packing every individual still needs to be suspended in a sphere of space around 6-7 feet in diameter to allow a full range of unrestricted motion without risking collision with adjacent individuals. External dimensions would be geometry dependent, but as a crude estimate we can call it 180 cubic feet per person, times 1000 people = 180,000 cubic feet total, or a sphere about ~70 feet in diameter. Not to shabby all things considered. Now if we only had a mountain of magical devices that could pull it off.

          It's a good idea though - perhaps we could get NASA interested in VR development as a way to maintain health and morale on long missions. Sure I may be trapped in a tin can with a handful of other people for years on end, but if I can use my stint on the exercise bike to spend an hour in a fairly immersive bicycle ride through the woods that would likely let me bleed off a lot of stress. I'd probably be a lot less likely to want to slack off on exercise as well.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by gishzida on Friday April 04 2014, @09:16PM

    by gishzida (2870) on Friday April 04 2014, @09:16PM (#26397) Journal

    I would say that is probably what this study will find out... just because their 'selection tests' are supposed to filter out the unstable the idea seems to be to see if this kind of isolation will cause psychological 'issues'. Imagine what it would be like to be stuck with someone(s) that have bad habits, have opposing political views, hate your philosophy of life but other wise is a nice normal person. How long befor you throttle them or throttle yourself?

    In regards to solitary confinement you get a shower a week and maybe some exercise for a short period of time... Solitary makes you nuttier [] and nastier. The effect of this kind of of experiment will possibly induce "flaws" which the selection tests did not catch.