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The Earth and Moon as seen from Mars by the HiRISE Camera Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

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The Isolation of Space Travel by Diane Devine

When the first mission to the planet Mars blast off from earth, a crew of at least six people will be confined together for around two and a half years, and millions of miles from home. They will be completely isolated and have only delayed communications with people on earth.  The size of the distance will make real time conversations impossible, on average there will be a forty four minute delay in communications with people on earth.  There is no way to know exactly how this kind of isolation and monotony will affect the crew members psychologically. The longest amount of time anyone has been in orbit has been fourteen months. We know from past missions that space travelers have rated the experience of space travel as a positive one that gave them a new appreciation of life and the planet earth. The astronauts from earlier missions have said that one the most positive parts of their experience was gazing through space to look at earth. This was the one thing that was rated the highest in making the space travelers feel better.  The Mars mission will be the first time that humans have ever experienced something scientist call “earth out of view” phenomenon.

The space community is concerned that increased isolation will lead to severe homesickness and possible suicidal or psychotic thoughts. Researchers believe that increased training and careful screening will reduce the risk of psychological stress on the crew members. However, it may be that an on board telescope allowing the astronauts to view the earth in real time, will be their greatest link to sanity. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

Sources  1. Laing JH, Crouch GI. LONE WOLVES? ISOLATION AND SOLITUDE WITHIN THE FRONTIER TRAVEL EXPERIENCE. Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 2009;91(4):325-342.  2. Nick K. From Earth’s orbit to the outer planets and beyond: Psychological issues in space. Acta Astronautica;68:576-581.