The technological challenges involved in sending a crewed mission to Mars are daunting, but new research highlights the need to focus on the psychology of spaceflight to prevent world’s first Mars explorers arriving at their destination stark raving crazy.
A paper in the journal American Psychologist reviews the already extensive research done by NASA into the psychological trials that come with being an astronaut, and concludes that there is still a hell of a lot of work still to be done.
The central problem for would-be Mars travellers is that early missions will comprise a team of people confined in a tin can about the size of a small Winnebago for two or three years. During this time, communication with family and friends will be extremely minimal. Even talking to Mission Control will be difficult, given that signals to and from the craft will take almost an hour to arrive.
And that – say authors Lauren Blackwell Landon and Kelley Slack, both from NASA, and Jamie Barrett from the US Federal Aviation Authority – means teamwork and the ability to resolve both mechanical and personal issues without outside help will be essential.
“Although much is known about the underlying factors and processes of teamwork,” they write, “much is left to be discovered for teams who will be operating in extreme isolation and confinement during a future Mars mission.”