Scientists Are Testing Astronauts In Long Mars Simulations, And The Results Are Worrying

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Scientists Are Testing Astronauts In Long Mars Simulations, And The
Results Are Worrying

SPACE
Scientists Are Testing Astronauts In Long Mars Simulations, And The
Results Are Worrying

Jack Dunhill
By Jack Dunhill
22 NOV 2021, 16:56

In our lifetimes, it is almost certain we will see humans set foot on
Mars. If the modern-day space race between private companies and nations
continues, it is not out of the question that we will see a long-term
human presence on either the Moon or Mars in that time frame too, an
incredible yet insane concept.

But – and it is a big but – researchers simply have no idea how a team
of astronauts isolated almost 380 million kilometers (236 million miles)
from home would fare in such a scenario. Would they maintain constant
communication with Earth and work perfectly as a team? Or would they
descend into anarchy, even cutting communication with their superiors
and forming an autonomous colony? Russian researchers are aiming to
figure that out before they spend billions on the real deal, by placing
a group of individuals in a Mars colonization simulation.

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Project SIRIUS (Scientific International Research In Unique terrestrial
Station – yes, they reached a bit to make the acronym cool) is an effort
to understand the psychology of astronauts during long space flights.
The results have recently been published in Frontiers in Physiology.
Seventeen and 120-day isolation experiments in 2017 and 2019,
respectively, were designed to simulate a team isolated in an
extraterrestrial environment.

The results confirmed their worries – the delay in communication due to
the distance, coupled with the extended period away from Mother Earth,
resulted in the astronauts becoming detached from mission control and
becoming almost autonomous.

content-1637589720-sirius08026.jpg
Mark Watney would be proud – the crew tends to plants grown in the pods.
Image Credit: Project SIRIUS - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Previous simulations suggested that once the astronauts left on their
voyage, there was a strong chance that they would begin to disconnect
from mission control, reducing the number of situations they would
report on. To confirm the results of previous simulations, namely the
Mars-500 missions, the researchers carried out the two isolations using
a mixed-gender, international crew. The missions were testing how
participants communicated with mission control and how well they worked
together to form a successful colony.

They began with a take-off procedure, before landing on the inhospitable
environment of a specialized area within the training facility. The crew
were then locked away in pods together, given minimal rations and
supplies, and subjected to the full isolation of the real deal.

Analysis of the experiments suggested a number of conclusions, some
positive, while others were more problematic. The crew actually
increased their communication with the mission control center (MCC) at
the halfway stage of the simulation, which involved the Mars landing,
but then subsequently became detached, reducing the volume of
communication with MCC. They relied less on the recommendations of MCC,
becoming more autonomous as they adapted to their mission.

While it is positive the crew were able to take matters into their own
hands and live autonomously, a disconnect from MCC is a worrying
phenomenon.

"The negative side is that the mission control loses the possibility to
understand the needs and problems of the crew, which consequently
hinders mission control's ability to provide support," said co-author
Dmitry Shved of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Aviation
Institute, in a statement to CNET.

There was also an interesting correlation between the male and female
crew members. Similar to previous experiments, the women reported on
problems to the MCC more often, and expressed their support, while their
communication styles were more emotional. The men, however, were less
likely to report to MCC. Interestingly, by the end of the simulation,
both the men and women had adapted to each other's communication styles,
forming a similar level of emotion and regularity of communication.

Of course, due to only 12 people taking part in the simulations, it is
also possible that deviances between groups and individuals are purely
down to individual differences, so generalizations cannot be made before
more research is conducted.

In the meantime, another Project SIRIUS experiment is now underway,
involving an 8-month isolation that began on November 4th.

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