'It's like a hall of mirrors': In a spacecraft, some personalities work better than others
New study tests astronauts' mental health, relationships on long-distance missions
Here on Earth, if you need a break from someone who's getting on your nerves, you can usually just walk away. But for astronauts in space, there's nowhere to run and hide.
"If you think about a spacecraft, it's like a hall of mirrors; every quality of every other person is getting amplified and exacerbated. You're seeing it day in and day out," said Leslie DeChurch, a psychology and communications professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.
"A characteristic that might be great from nine to five might not be great from nine to nine for a thousand days straight," she told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.
With the possibility of deep space travel on the horizon, researchers like DeChurch are looking at ways to keep astronauts sane while they live and work together in close quarters — far, far away from home.
She's the principal investigator on a new study called the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). The goal is to better understand what happens to astronauts' mental well-being and interpersonal relationships when they travel in close quarters on long-distance space missions.
For the project, experts are studying healthy people aged 25 to 55, who have a degree in science, math or engineering, and exhibit qualities similar to future astronauts on missions up to 45 days long.
Narcissists no good in space
Researchers are finding there are certain traits that make people better suited for long-distance space exploration — intelligence, resiliency, an attitude of collectivism, and positive humour— and some that simply don't work — like narcissism or highly individualistic attitudes.
A long-distance space mission to Mars would be significantly longer than the practice missions involved in the HERA project.
But DeChurch sees the study as an important step in the plan to get humans to the Red Planet.
- 'No planet B': Sending humans to Mars isn't the answer to Earth's problems, says U.K. astronomer royal
"I wouldn't say that we could go straight from a 45-day mission to a thousand days with an extended time on Mars surface," she said.
"The nice thing about these studies is that we can run a lot of them ... and we can start to get an understanding of what's working and what's not working."
To learn more about the research that's happening around astronaut mental health, Lynch spoke with:
- Leslie DeChurch, psychology and communications professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.
- Dave Williams, a retired Canadian astronaut and author of Defying Limits: Lessons from the Edge of the Universe.
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin.