NASA has enlisted the help of the United States Navy to prepare for the first manned mission to Mars, a journey that could take a serious toll on astronauts.
According to Jerry Lamb, the technical director of the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, the research was specifically meant to identify signs that something in the team’s makeup is about to change. This will allow crew members to respond in the best possible way to any issues that may arise during a mission.
The research will be particularly useful to astronauts working wit NASA toward the goal of reaching Mars. Astronauts will perform a month-long test voyage in a simulator the size of a two-bedroom apartment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Four volunteer researchers will live and work in the Human Exploration Research Analog, which will be sealed by an airlock and overseen by a model mission control center.
Participants in the study will be recorded over the course of the experiment, and video and audio tapes will be sent to researchers at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory so that they can be analyzed in consideration of their behavioral study’s findings.
According to Ronald Steed, a retired submarine commander who helped the Navy with their behavioral study, the experience of astronauts and deep-sea submarine operators would be similar. One of the key similarities is the intersection of distance from home and communications – the further away from a base a sub or spaceship travels, the longer it takes for the crew on board to reach controllers on the Earth’s surface.
Astronauts and submarine commanders alike will need to be able to deal with issues with their ship or crew on their own when they reach a prohibitive distance. According to Steed, the aim of the research is to equip the commander with a set of tools that allow him or her to assess the state of the crew and make a decision that will carry the mission forward.
Space can be a dangerous place for astronauts. Humans evolved here on Earth under relatively uniform conditions. Once they leave the atmosphere, NASA astronauts face deadly risks like running out of oxygen, dangerous drops in temperature and exposure to radiation whizzing through space.