The greatest test of the human mind will be the projected almost three-year manned mission to Mars and back. Mental breakdown, sexual tension, near-suicide and mutiny have already taken place on shorter Earth orbit and space travel missions. The Achilles’ heel of the Mars mission may be the human factor.
Crew selection is perhaps the most critical of choices. At the start of space exploration, NASA selected military test pilots for missions – in the 1960s, one died per week. In the 1980s, scientists and schoolteachers were chosen to orbit Earth. Today, psychiatrists delve into the human psyche to discover the necessary attributes for a successful 21st century astronaut.
The Russians have the most experience in long missions. They test candidates by keeping them isolated and awake for days of non-stop repetitive tasks to duplicate the numbing mindless routine of months of space travel.
Life onboard will be crowded, noisy and dirty. There will be no water for showering and astronauts will drink their own purified urine. Noise, workload and disrupted circadian rhythms all cause sleep deprivation. Boring and repetitive food saps psychological and physical energy. What’s NASA cooking up for its crews?
Sex in space is a possibility with a mixed crew in close quarters. NASA says that is OK and natural, but different nationalities and customs may give rise to misunderstanding and friction.
Isolation and confinement can bring out strong emotions, even violence. Sedation and restraint could be necessary. Family problems on Earth could affect an astronaut’s ability to function. New methods of psychological assessment such as software that examines facial movements for signs of emotional disturbance are being tested.
Six months of boredom while travelling through space will be followed by six minutes of an astronaut’s life’s most intense activity and terror during the dangerous descent through Mars’ atmosphere. Training a crew to cope with the psychological pressure of his/her imminent death is a major hurdle.
Four personality types have been identified as the most perfect for a Mars mission: the driver, the analyst, the motivator and the relationship builder. Thus far, there has only been a 50 per cent success rate for landing un-manned spacecraft on Mars. Landing a manned craft is even more dangerous. The crew must face that grim reality.
Add this episode to your queue to receive more information about
The Human Factor and we will let you know when it becomes available.