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Flying to Mars and not going crazy...

07.07.2006
When getting ready for the future flight to Mars, not only spaceship's technical equipment should be taken into account, but also the fact that human beings will be flying on board the spaceship. The "human factor" can not be disregarded. That means that psychological preparation of the flight is no less important than technical one. Specialists of the Institute of Medico-Biologic Problems who pay a lot of attention to this issue are sure of that. Svetlana Stepanova told about that at the 13th International Conference "Space Biology and Aerospace Medicine".

The objective of psychological provision of the flight is distinct and clear – to provide safety and high professional level of the crew. Likewise, during any space flight. However, interplanetary flight certainly has its own peculiarities, and they determine the specific tasks specialists are facing.

The flight to Mars is lengthy and to a large extent autonomous. We are far from full understanding what the crew will have to come across during the flight which is in essence a flight to the unknown. Naturally, the risk is increasing. It is almost for sure, that the Martian crew will be an international one and it will have to solve a wide range of professional tasks.

What qualities are important in psychologists' opinion for selection of future members of the crew? High professionalism, reliability, ability to work in stressful situations, to promptly make independent decisions, but this is not an exhaustive list. High cognitive motivation is necessary – a person should strive for novelty, for perception of a mystery. Only in this case, the person will be ready to endure all difficulties and inconvenience which are expected in abundance. At the preparation phase, individuals should be taught to behave in a small group, to respect personality and culture of other nations. There is no final decision yet about the sexual composition of the crew and, most likely, women will not be taken on board at least because it is impossible to provide for normal hygiene during the flight. However, if the decision is positive, it would mean that individuals should be ready to work in a crew of different sexes.

According to Svetlana Stepanova and her colleagues, the sooner such preparation starts, the better, and the best option is to prepare future "Martians" from quite young people.

How many people would go to Mars? There are different opinions about that but psychologists are sure that no less than six, including the captain, co-pilot (the pilot of the planet landing module), flight engineer, physician and two research officers. Why two research officers? They will have to go out onto the planet and to carry out scientific research there, but it is very risky to disembark one person to the planet. We do not know what he can expect there, i.e., if 5 or 4 persons fly, the risk increases.

Flight autonomy means that in any situation, even if mental disorder occurs with one of the crew members, it will be impossible to immediately return the person back to the Earth. It would only be possible to isolate him and to treat. It might seem strange that we are talking about mental disorder if the candidates have to pass strict medical board? Is it possible for a mentally unstable person to become a crew member? Certainly not, but Martian flight specificity is such that these problems may arise even with a healthy person. Lengthy isolation in a closed collective, monotony of life, lack of external time registers may provoke the so-called neuropsychic asthenization. This is a neurotic state that will significantly impede the work and relationships in the group.

First of all, the on-board physician should be able to recognise signs of impendent mental trouble. To this end, there exist objective diagnostics techniques. For example, speech analysis. It has turned out that markers of the person's psychic state may be found in how the person is speaking. Speech spectral analysis equipment is designed for this purpose. The second method is – ElectroEncephaloGram analysis, which is also possible to carry out on board.

Of course, the best way to maintain good mental state of crew members is to observe work and rest regime, to control duration and quality of sleep (this is very important!). Psychologists believe it necessary for each crew member to have an individual cabin on board where he can seclude himself from time to time. Any person has the right to stay alone, and the opportunity for seclusion is the means for suppressing conflicts in the group. It would be good if cosmonauts managed the auto-training techniques and respiratory exercises. It is very important that the crew members were busy all the time during the flight, not only with routine work but also with important and interesting matter. This is a guarantee of healthy psychological climate.

The onboard physician will have to be both psychologist and psychotherapist for regulating relationships in the group. Generally, tremendous burden falls on the physician. It is necessary to prepare a multi-purpose physician: therapeutist, surgeon and psychiatrist all in one. Unfortunately, such physicians do not exist yet.

As Svetana Stepanova has said in conclusion, unsolved problems in this area are more numerous yet than solved ones. It can be expected that some of psychological problems of the Martian flight will be worked through during the modeling experiment on the Earth. "Informnauka" will further inform about the progress in preparation for this experiment.

Nadezda Markina | alfa
Further information:
http://www.informnauka.ru

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