For any endeavour beyond our home called Earth to a land similar to ours in ways to sustain a future civilization, would require mission preparedness through extensive training and knowledge of challenges astronauts could be exposed to during the flight and on the red planet. Isolation is one the key challenges any long duration spaceflight encounters, and especially with crew on an almost year long Mars mission will face human factors and psychological challenges. Humans adhere to rapid adaptation and thriving successfully on Earth courtesy of that behaviour. But when we are unable to access that environment, we feel isolated. In order to overcome these issues, competence in operational communication skills through scenario-based simulations, classes, and practice would provide a strong foundation. Apart from isolation alleviation, another key metric for a successful mission is to be in good health. For that, astronauts will undergo extensive medical training in order to check for symptoms and treat minor health and critical diseases on the voyage to the red planet.
The expansion of the role of psychology in human space flight can help to resolve environmental design challenges and group performance to the core. Isolation and group confinement at times leads to serious consequences such as sleep disturbances, somatic complaints, heart palpitations and anxiety. While it’s not all negative as spaceflight does offer a sense of accomplishment, opportunities for psychological growth and development as a result of requisite training.
Contemplating the effect of human spaceflight lasting for a period of 6 months and beyond as would be the case for a mission to Mars, the daily life inside the spacecraft and operational capabilities will be affected by space radiation environment, isolation from family due to reduced communication and interaction with fellow crew members on a daily basis. An essential understanding of the success and limitation of these different factors would lead to the accomplishment of what can be called “A Exploratory Mars Mission”.
For a typical mission to the red planet, medical training holds key importance accompanied by technical training, personal and social training and group training.
Chapter 1: Personal & Social Training
Personal and social training falls under the category of the Human Factors. Psychological issues associated with a round trip to human piloted mars mission are unique and require a pragmatic approach in order to make it a safe ride. Microstiuli challenges can rapidly grow into macro over a short period of time whether it’s the noise of a crew clearing the throat or sneezing every couple of minutes or frustrations arising out of disconnected ground station support. Utilizing different work schedules for every crew member and mixing up things such as using inflatable chairs, sharing arts, and reorganizing shelves could be some of the environment changing ways to reduce isolation. The most essential training or rather the single point focus on “Remembering the Purpose” of why you are here is the best mind training of any kind. Expanding on that, there are some ideas which could be utilized by the crew for understanding themselves and their fellow marsonauts. Marsonatus will be living and working in challenging environments where they would need to endure multiple stressors.
Unlike hardware testing, robust training for human teams in particular is a dynamic behavioural analysis endeavour, which requires development of reliable protocols to monitor different parameters involving sociological, psychological and physiological factors interacting with the environment and other humans. Frequency increase of multinational and multicultural crew members in a long duration mission can attime be a boon and bust with the added complexity.
The training methodologies suggested are a combination of diverse factors taking into consideration the possible scenarios that could be encountered in a long duration Mars mission. There is no single best method and as each method has its own merits and weakness, the combination serves the best purpose.
Crew Selection Training
The requisite training could be initiated by keeping astronauts in isolation for a certain period of time ranging from 3-6 months in an unknown isolated location without any contact with fellow humanoids and family members. At present, the Mars Society conducts two weeks sims for volunteers from different parts of the world at MDRS (Mars Desert Research Station), Utah. A similar approach with extended period of social distancing and restricted travelling (as would happen during voyage to Mars) would be a good training exercise for acclimatization. It would subject the astronauts to a strenuous environment and test their core strength. Reduced psychological assistance from earth through long distance communication could help in dreadful scenarios. Hence, psychological and physiological factors are of significant importance. Long duration analog missions at FMARS (Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station) can be helpful for understanding the behaviour of crew when on Mars on exposure to climatic extremes and cold temperatures with isolation and closed environment and reduced sunlight.
Astronauts selected for this preliminary mission could be chosen from those who have worked on ISS in the past. A more detailed psychological analysis, one different from the astronaut selection process by NASA could help in choosing the ones with inherent ability to cope with such situations. Controlled studies in simulated environments in the past have shown instances of reduced energy levels, mood swings, faulty decision making, poor interpersonal relations and lapses in memory.
Diversity of Crew
While being in isolation with voice contact with just different crew members and 24 minute delayed communication with the ground station/family, a diverse background of experience and life learnings can address any concerns of stress could seriously harm and negatively impact the individual or the crew or serious consequences for accomplishing mission objectives or jeopardizing these mission altogether. The magnitude of stressors arising from psychological and biological reasons will vary based on the different phases of flight and mission but a cumulative effect can hamper mission objectives.
As here on earth, we humans need people from diverse backgrounds to build a successful organization, the same fundamentals would be rudimentary elements for achieving the goals set for a mission to the red planet. Crew members should be selected from a group of pilots, engineers, biologists, chemists, artists, graduate students, writers who all could be trained and meet the stringent requirements as required by any space agency or private company ferrying the crew to Mars. There should be a single communication language during the entire journey irrespective of nationality for a multinational crew. This shall be beneficial in avoiding any inconvenience or potential crisis issue. During the analog long duration mission, this should be a part of the mission accomplishment criteria. In an emergency scenario, a language should be the last thing that a crew has to overcome.
NASA Human Research Program Integrated Research Plan 2018 document outlines that addressing the risk of inadequate nutrition during crewed exploration missions to Mars would be critical to mission success. In the confined spacecraft environment, crew members could be in a situation of lacking essential food nutrients either due to strict food consumption plans or chemical instability of food or repetition of food cycles which could lead to reduced intake and inadequate nutrition. Prior exposure and training for an extended period of time could develop skills for adaptation to those scenarios. NASA funded research by University of Hawaii in 2016 completed a 365 day isolation experiment to evaluate impact on humans. Future studies could be performed with repetitive diets and varied nutrition for crew adaptation to similar environments during martian voyage. A good sample size with a diverse group of crew members and one year simulated environment could provide a better understanding of any potential health hazards, nutrient deficiencies, stress related metabolism degradation.
Another essential part of human factors post flight is to understand what could help the crew in feeling better during the course of the journey. It could be extensive communication in the form of calls from people from ground support, surprise calls from their favorite celebrities and behavioural analysis calls with health clinicians.
Chapter 2: Technical Training
Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer to lead the first South Pole expedition had quoted these famous words “The human factor is three quarters of any expedition”.
To be “G Fit”, crew members will undergo centrifuge based flight training each month to practice and improve their technique. G training has been significantly improved and positively impacted flight safety. The centrifuge is able to re-create the exact G force loads experienced by the crew during the spaceflight. Flight loads of 8g – 9g can be handled by wearing anti-G suits. Anti-G outfits use air bladders to constrict the legs and abdomen during the high G ‘s to keep blood in the upper body. At NASA’s 20G research centrifuge at Ames Research Center in California’s , it can simulate upto 20 times the force of gravity at sea level. Humans can definitely survive high G forces for very brief periods.
Different centrifuge radii can have performance effects on entry tasks for marsonauts. Two inherent artifacts, namely, Acceleration gradient and Coriolois acceleration need to be considered when using a centrifuge of finite radius. Group of crews can be simulated in centrifuge being exposed to initial values of 2.5G – 3.5G for fifteen seconds duration and slowly the time span is increased to measure the resilience of the crew members. Slowly the G’s are ramped up to 6G-7G for fifteen seconds. The behaviour and handling of circumstances provides an insight into the preparedness of the crew. Another easier way is to dawn a spacesuit and head for G maneuvers in fighter planes.
Microgravity is a condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless. In order to ensure marsonauts can stay healthy during the Martian voyage, microgravity training would be essential. Although, the “How” section of the project talks about the creation of artificial gravity but from a worst case perspective, it’s always better to be over prepared than under prepared as the space environment is unforgiving.
Although the human body can adapt to microgravity quickly but exposure to it for a period of nine months to a year can have long term impacts, especially on the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, visual acuity, orientation and balance. The spacecraft common space must have machines for full-body workout such as Advanced Body Workout Device. From lifting dumbbells to squats, deadlifts and running are some of the essential exercises which must be executed by the crew for at least 5-7 hours with required breaks.
Brain Analysis using Neuralink & Facial Analysis
As described in Chapter 1, the human factors criteria has a significant role in mission completion and avoids any catastrophic scenario on long duration spaceflight. One way to analyze what happens inside the mind of crew is to utilize minimally intrusive techniques in order to implant a chip inside the brain of the crew member and download information only related to negative thoughts such as depression or loneliness. This could help escalate issues and address them by creating a pulse to negate the effect. Neuralink’s chip could be used in reversing long term vision or other sensory deficiencies and hence marsonauts with chips could already be avoiding these issues through non-invasive surgeries.
A second approach could be to monitor cognitive functioning through computer analysis of speech. This could be done by self monitoring via computer on-board spacecraft and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) programmed to measure attention span, information processing, and recall. Sometimes as it could be difficult to figure out what a crew member is trying to convey, a PDA or computer quick help in the real time analysis and the issue can be addressed.
SpaceWalk & Operational Training
Training for spacewalks or EVA as we know it, is one the toughest duties to be performed by astronauts. Decompression thickness and musculoskeletal disorders are the most prominent hazards from spacewalking and can be harmful for long term. EVA readiness and testing training will be a key part of the mission to Mars. Some of the challenges faced by crew in reduced gravity walking as stated as :
- Reduced visibility due to changes in illumination, contrast, and field of view.
- Reduced sense of orientation due to changes in vestibular stimulation.
- Reduced range of motion due to limitation of the extravehicular mobility unit (EMU).
- Compromised strength due to fatigue
The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) and Space Vehicles Mockup Facility (SVMF) at Johnson Space Center serve as training grounds for spacewalks. Data from different spacewalks and training facilities can help develop a model to fine tune parameters and be more thoroughly prepared for spacewalks. Handling instruments during fixing of issues in space or on the vehicle would need better coordination during the handling phase and all the training can come in handy.
Chapter 3: Group Training
Teamwork is successful only when a group of individuals come together as a team without their personal bias and work towards a single goal with their best effort. Any simple group task or process is not just the sum of the individuals, as complex conversations can lead to reinforcement , undermining or creation of new behaviours in the individuals involved. Elimination of self-centeredness is a necessary for success as a group. According to a NASA report titled ”Psychology of Space Exploration”, group fusion and fission are elementary variables for creating habits and work schedules and group composing which shall lead to individuals functioning as a group. Drivers of team performance decrements can be attributed at times to cross-cultural differences which can definitely be addressed through year long training missions.
Team training & Fusion
Integration of teamwork skills with individual technical expertise is a driver in performing complex tasks. Good team work skills and processes boost technical skills in mitigation of issues stemming from degradation of technical skills. Working in cohesion on solving an issue and measuring the effectiveness of the solution can provide a closed loop feedback mechanism to avoid any pitfalls. Whether it’s a small task to reorganize the spacecraft shelves or performing spacecraft maneuvers to orient the vehicle, a smooth functional group can lead to fantabulous results. It also helps in building resilience and alleviating stress.
Team dynamics can be enhanced via support tools such as guided team debriefs. Successful conflict negotiations, planning for future actions and tasks, and shared leadership can significantly enhance mission success. Debriefs tools tested in HERA & NEEMO missions have been demonstrated as an effective tool for ensuring that no conflict can lead to undesired consequences. Year long analog simulations with multicultural and multilingual crew in mixed groups working towards a singular goal can serve a pre-penultimate test, and the robust methodological analysis of the mission provides a better understanding of factors resulting in heated atmosphere or conflicts.
The teamwork will be under constant monitoring and supervision to study how the crew responds to situations as a fused group or do individualism takes authority. Autonomy to act in scenarios involving a communication delay from ground stations on Earth can lead to arguments Hence, shared understanding and leadership will help in resolution of conflicts and enhance discipline to work together in addressing complex tasks.A key metric could be the frequency of interaction among the different crew members and time duration of interaction. This data would provide detailed information regarding the nature and depth of communication.
Chapter 4: Medical Checks
Medical selection exam for potential crew for the Mars mission will be the most stringent test they will have come across in their life. The main goal of this test is to find candidates who are currently healthy, have a healthy family history and can maintain themselves in a healthy state for the course of the voyage and beyond. The medical examinations are based on established standards in the following medical systems: general medicine, ears, nose, and throat, ophthalmology, pulmonology, cardiovascular system, hematology, abdomen and digestive system, endocrine and metabolic, genitourinary, musculoskeletal and orthopedics, dermatology, neurology, psychiatry and human behavior, obstetrics and gynecology, dental, infectious diseases, anthropometry, radiation exposure, nutrition, physical fitness.(NASA.gov).
Astronaut training is a key aspect for missions to mars. Every aspect of the training from physiological, personal ,social and human factors holds significance to prevent negative effects from long term exposure. These trainings help in developing countermeasures and dataset for diverse sets of parameters. For a long term journey in space with the probability of uncertainty at a higher rate as compared to earth, these trainings shall serve as a sort of instruction manual and help in tackling issues. Fitness plays a key role in a successful mission and this guide would provide some directions for a routine to get accustomed to.