Can Our Minds Handle Mars?
Close your eyes and picture that you're in a rocky, cold region... isolated from everyone and everything you know for months, where a day lasts more than 24 hours and you have seven months of spring weather. You're on planet Mars. And while great strides have been made in space exploration, there's still a lot out there to discover, including the idea of life on the red planet.
In preparation of potentially sending humans on deep space missions, NASA first wants to understand the mental toll of isolation. They're doing this with the help of six people in a psychology experiment simulating mars. Psychology is the science of the study of the mind and behavior. Or in simple terms, the way a person or group thinks. Rachel Crane has more.
--REPORTER PKG-AS FOLLOWS--
"Whoa, there's a distinct smell in here!"
"Yeah! Eight months of B-O trapped."
"It's crazy that you guys have been living in this dome eight months -- six of you in here."
"Are you calling me crazy?" [laughs]
BUT THAT'S ACTUALLY WHY THESE SIX CREW MEMBERS WERE CHOSEN FOR THIS SPECIAL MISSION: TO SEE IF THEY WOULD GO CRAZY.
"It definitely has that potential."
I WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CIVILIANS THEY SAW IN MONTHS.
"It's pretty tiny."
THAT'S BECAUSE THEY WERE STUCK LIVING INSIDE THIS SMALL DOME... PRETENDING TO BE ON MARS.
EXCEPT MARS IS THE TOP OF THIS DORMANT VOLCANO IN HAWAII…
SOME SAY THIS IS THE MOST MARTIAN-LIKE ENVIRONMENT WE HAVE HERE ON EARTH. IT'S ISOLATED, IT'S DESOLATE, IT'S ROCKY, IT'S COLD, I MEAN, I TRULY FEEL LIKE I'M ON ANOTHER PLANET.
THEY LIVED HERE BECAUSE NASA NEEDS TO FIGURE OUT A MAJOR PROBLEM: IF THE MIND CAN HANDLE A TRIP TO DEEP SPACE.
(Dr. Leveton, NASA Psychologist) "These missions are incredible undertakings. They're unprecedented in terms of distance, duration, and confinement."
(Rachel Crane) "We don't know how it's truly going to impact our brains."
(Dr. Leveton, NASA Psychologist) "Yes, exactly. We really want to be able to quantify this risk."
AND THAT'S WHERE THE HI SEAS MISSION COMES IN.
(Kim Binsted, Hi-Seas Co-investigator) "The goal of this mission is to look at crew, cohesion, and performance. We want to see how can select people and then support them so they can do long-duration space missions without--"
(Rachel Crane) "Going crazy."
(Kim Binsted, Hi-Seas Co-investigator) "Yeah, basically."
THERE HAVE BEEN SIMILAR EXPERIMENTS, BUT HI SEAS IS ONE OF THE LONGEST AND THE FIRST TO FOCUS SOLELY ON A CO-ED MISSION TO MARS.
"So we had to wear these socioemeters while we were awake and they would like, measure our interaction."
(Rachael Crane) "So those are the things that would measure how close you are to some of your other crew members, see who likes each other, who doesn't like each other..."
(Sophie Milam, Executive Officer) "...how loud your voice is when you're talking to someone, so whether you're whispering or possibly having a heated discussion."
"That never happens."
A MARS MISSION COULD LAST OVER A YEAR -- SO RESEARCHERS STUDIED HOW THE HI SEAS CREW BEHAVED DURING THIS EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME IN THIS VERY CONFINED SPACE.
(Rachel Crane) "Is there any place in this habitat where you have any privacy at all?"
"Visual privacy, you could go into your room and close the door but there's absolutely no sound privacy at all."
BUT IT'S NOT JUST HOW THE CREWS GET ALONG…
(Kim Binsted, Hi-Seas Co-investigator) "The data we're getting out is giving N.A.S.A. engineers information about how much water crews use, how much food they eat, what kinds of food they eat, how much energy they use, how much space they need."
"This is the largest room in the house."
THE CREW MEMBERS SELECTED FOR THIS MISSION ARE AS ASTRONAUT-LIKE AS POSSIBLE -- CHOSEN FOR THEIR EDUCATION AND TEMPERAMENT.
BUT EVEN THEY HAD A HARD TIME.
(Neil Scheibelhut, Biologist and Medical Officer) "I had to try different things. I had to like, well maybe if I just go in my room and stay away from people for a while, and that doesn't work."
BUT IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT TO ANOTHER PLANET, WE NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DEAL WITH THESE FEELINGS OF ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, EVEN BOREDOM.
"We played board games about five nights a week."
(Rachel Crane) "You guys get bored a lot so you needed the board games?"
"Well, yeah. Movies and TV shows and board games were about the only social activities we had."
AND NASA PSYCHOLOGISTS SAY THAT A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF KEEPING US HAPPY IS FOOD.
(Rachel Crane) "So this is where you guys did all your cooking?"
(Rachel Crane) "But isn't that your typical cooking? I mean, you guys were dealing with freeze-dried food here."
"Nothing really fresh."
"You can always find someone making something in here so it's kind of the most social room."
UNLIKE CLOSER SPACE MISSIONS, EARTH IS SO FAR, YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE IT FROM MARS.
SO THE CREW HERE DIDN'T HAVE MUCH OF A VIEW EITHER.
"I want to see where you guys slept."
"This is Sophie and I's rooms."
(Rachel Crane) "Oh, wow, it's pretty compact in there."
(Rachel Crane) "No windows."
(Rachel Crane) "Gotta block from the space radiation, right?"
"Right! Exactly, yeah."
THE POWER AND WATER ON MARS IS ALSO LIMITED, SO THEY CAN ONLY TAKE ONE SIX MINUTE SHOWER PER WEEK.
"You kind of track everyone's usage of the shower."
THERE'S ALSO A 20-MINUTE COMMUNICATION DELAY TO AND FROM EARTH.
(Rachel Crane) "What about contact with the outside world?"
"We had, you know, some delayed communication with family and friends who communicate with this. I think that was really important to a lot of the crew members."
AND WHENEVER THEY WENT OUTSIDE TO SIMULATE SPACE WALKS, THEY ACTUALLY WORE A SPACE SUIT.
(Rachel Crane) "Having gone through this experience, would you still go to Mars?"
(Rachel Crane) "Would you go to Mars?"
Some people say that a study like this is maybe frivilous//What do you think the real value of an experiment like this is?
AND EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN'T REALLY GO TO MARS, THEY SURVIVED AN EXTREME TEST.
AND THEIR STRUGGLES MAY BRING US ONE STEP CLOSER TO GETTING THERE.
Now it's time to hear from all of you. We're going to take a poll this week. And we want to know, would you be willing to be in isolation with just five people, in a small place, for 8 months? Vote yes or no.
After you vote, let's have a little fun this week. Pretend you have to go live in isolation on Mars. What one thing would you want to take with you to make your stay more enjoyable? Write in and let us know!
Website Resources: NASA, Mars for Kids
Video: PBS LearningMedia, The Advanced Apes, Is There Life on Mars?
Website Article: Science Kids, Science Careers, Psychologist
Website Article: Behavioral Issues Associated with isolation and Confinement http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/991.html