Living in space could help astronauts flourish on Mars by avoiding the ‘time warp’ of living in space

28th January, 2022.      //   Space Travel  // 

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Since the pandemic began, each new year has felt like a rerun of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”do “‘s let’s the time warp again.” Now, imagine living in space.

Adjusting to a new normal, such as working from home for long periods of time and disrupting well-established habits, has given us the impression that time has no significance.
When astronauts travel to orbit and live on the International Space Station for six months or longer, they encounter a new kind of time warp. The crew sees 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets per day from their low-Earth orbit, which allows them to see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets. The astronauts’ 12-hour workdays are scheduled down to five-minute increments as they work on experiments, maintain the space station, and conduct routine maintenance and cleaning.

Breaking the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, NASA astronaut Christina Koch spent 328 days in space between March 2019 and February 2020.
“We have a saying in long duration spaceflight that ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint,'” Koch told Dr. Sanjay Gupta for CNN’s “Chasing Life” podcast. “In my mind, I just change it to, ‘it’s an ultra-marathon, not a marathon.’ And I made sure to let the people around me know that I would probably need help at some point, and I would probably rely on them for different things and that it might not be easy every single day.”
While preparing for her record-breaking mission, Koch spoke with fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who still holds the all-time record with 340 days in space. Kelly reminded Koch that it was crucial to pace herself and be vocal about what she needed in order to recharge. These tips, and the ones that follow, hold true whether you’re in zero gravity or stuck earthbound in a global pandemic.

According to Koch, “we have a lot of psychological countermeasures on board: video chats with our families, uploading of our favorite music and TV shows, and even the workday is all geared to kind of sustain a six-month mission.” To keep someone functioning at optimum performance even longer than a regular mission, we need to let the ground (crew) know what psychological countermeasures we can use.”

In space, how does time pass?

According to Koch, dynamic events such as video conversations with relatives, spacewalks outside the space station, and even holidays help the crew distinguish their days and prevent the time warp produced by repetition.
Her words: “Even if you’re incredibly busy, like we were, the fact that we weren’t seeing new things, smelling new things, and our sensory inputs weren’t changing was really what made it feel like we were in a time warp.” Isn’t that familiar?
In October 2019, Koch and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir led the first all-female spacewalk. Koch spent 42 hours and 15 minutes outside of the station and did six spacewalks during her 11-month stay on the station.

Yet in Koch’s recollection of her tour of duty, the spacewalks play an outsize role in what she experienced. “When I think back, in my mind, half the time I was doing spacewalks,” Koch said. “But in reality, that was such a small part of what we did. It feels like such a big part in terms of my memories and the experiences that I had up there.”

A unique Christmas celebration with her crewmates is another memorable experience for Koch. They turned off all of the lights in the station and used amber tape to cover their flashlights with amber tape, scattering them across the station so that it almost looked like it was lit by candlelight.
In a statement, Koch said, “It was the one day that felt like an escape from everything – not only from the space station, but from any kind of normality.”

The challenges of a journey
Koch and Kelly’s unparalleled missions are only the beginning. NASA is using extended flights to aid in its plans to return humans to the moon and send them on pioneering Mars trips. Deep-space missions will bring new challenges to the table for astronauts, such as how to cope with the social isolation of living in a foreign environment and how to reduce their reliance on Earth-based communications.

There are three testbeds to prepare for this new frontier of exploration: simulated missions on Earth, extended stays on the space station, and ultimately the first Artemis missions that will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon. During the early Artemis missions, astronauts will keep journals to chronicle their well-being and wear devices to track their sleep and circadian rhythms, according to NASA.
Maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, communicating well with the rest of the crew, and alleviating boredom and stagnation could help space travelers on long missions to Mars and prevent them from developing psychiatric disorders or experience cognitive or behavioral issues. Once they reach Mars, astronauts will also have tough, physically demanding tasks and experience days that are 37 minutes longer than those on Earth.

Space lessons in self-care
Space gardening is already helping to improve the mental health of astronauts aboard the International Space Station. During their downtime, crew members have claimed that they like tending to plant experiments, seeing greenery, and even getting to taste the fruits of their labors. It also gives them a palpable sense of belonging to their home planet.

Tom Williams, lead scientist for the human factors and behavioral performance element of NASA’s Human Research Program, says that his acronym “CONNECT” can help astronauts combat social isolation.
The letters stand for community, openness, networking, needs, expeditionary mindset, countermeasures and training. Together, these efforts can help future space explorers build self-care into their busy schedules, look out for one another and even recognize the impact of their efforts. “The Moon landing helped people around the world feel more united because they felt the sense of belonging, of oneness, with shared hopes and dreams fulfilled,” Williams said in a statement. For anyone on Earth who feels like they are experiencing a time warp as the pandemic continues, the same lessons apply.

“Ask them to help you and you will be able to help others,” Koch stated. “Learn to be content in your own skin, and on the other hand, set goals for yourself. I believe that when we look back, we realize that we’ve accomplished a lot more than we realized.”

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