Flying to Mars, it is difficult

The prospect of sending humans to Mars is daunting. The astronauts will take at least 9 months to reach Mars, then spend a year on the planet and then go home for 9 months. In the meantime, they will be exposed to high levels of radiation and will get used to the increasingly annoying little problems of their colleagues – it’s hard to tell which one is more deadly.

Although the scientific value of this task is questionable, its value will remain “unparalleled” as a propaganda gimmick. NASA’s NASA is studying how to protect the physical and mental health of a hypothetical Martian traveler. In 2019, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Washington, DC, some speakers elaborated on the work done for this purpose.

One of the attempts is NASA’s “Twin Study,” and all of its results will be announced in the coming months. What was shown at the meeting of the Science Promotion Association was just the tip of the iceberg.

experiment
NASA’s twin study, the experimenters are identical twin astronauts Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly. Scott entered the International Space Station in 2015 and worked as a space station commander for 12 months. During the same period, Mark stayed on earth.

Both of them regularly took blood, urine and other samples for scientific analysis, and at the same time, they also conducted physical and psychological tests. Because there is no known how the human body will change in space, ten research groups across the United States combed the samples and results to track as many elements as possible and physical changes.

As Chris Mason of Will Cornell Medical School said at the conference, these teams found many surprises. For example, Scott’s telomere lengthened during his stay in space. Telomeres are DNA strands that coat the ends of chromosomes in the nucleus. Normally, telomeres become shorter as the cells divide and age.

Later, Dr. Mason compared Scott’s data with his brother’s data on Earth. He found that the genes involved in the immune system in Scott’s body became very active. The same is true for repairing DNA-related cellular mechanisms.

“It’s almost like the body is in a state of high alert.” He said that considering the pressure of space flight, it is not surprising that this phenomenon occurs. Another surprising observation is that there is a large amount of mitochondrial debris in Scott’s blood. Mitochondria are tiny structures within the cell that release energy from sugar. They only enter the bloodstream when they are damaged or die of stress.

A good team needs a leader, a secretary, a storyteller, and a mixture of introverted personality and extroverted personality.

From Scott’s point of view, the good news is that almost all the changes that have occurred in him have returned to normal shortly after he returned to Earth. This shows that in most cases, healthy people can recover from the pressure of space flight. But no matter how detailed the details of the twin study (in fact, it is the most detailed portrait of the human body in history), the number of samples is only 2 experiments, there are still many limitations. In the next few years, NASA plans to conduct dozens of long-term tests on humans, including tracking the status of astronauts on the moon to prepare for future trips to Mars.

clown
Scott returned to Earth from the space station and talked about the successful completion of the mission in space. He said, “Teamwork makes dreams come true.” Understanding how the team works, where it goes wrong, and how to prevent social problems are key factors in the success of any Mars mission.

Scott Kelly (left) on the International Space Station

It takes about six people to complete such a task. They may have different cultural backgrounds and need to live together for three years in a space that is no larger than an ordinary family home. There is no emergency escape strategy there. One of the experimental attempts to simulate these conditions was done by behavioral scientist Nossil Contraktor of Northwestern University in Illinois. As he said at the conference, he has been studying the dynamics of people who have been isolated for a long time in the Human Discovery Simulation Organization Research Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, volunteers spent a total of 45 days in a simulated space mission. Their physiology and psychology are stimulated and challenged, and they are monitored day and night.

Some of the researchers’ research results are that certain personality traits are critical to helping the team work together. A good team needs a leader, a secretary, a storyteller, and a mixture of introverted personality and extroverted personality.

Interestingly, the most important role so far seems to be the “clown.” University of Florida anthropologist Jeffrey Johnson, based on years of research on the interpersonal relationship of Antarctic expeditions during the winter in Antarctica, pointed out that this clown must be interesting, smart, and for every member of this group. There is enough understanding so that most of the tensions that may arise when people are in close contact for a long time are eliminated.

It sounds more like a clown’s role in the royal court. The clown is also a bridge between different people. In Antarctica, the clown connects the scientists at the base with the businessmen who work there. Dr. Johnson found that in groups that are most prone to struggle or loss of consistency, no one is usually the role of a clown.

strike
However, even if a perfect and balanced team of astronauts is built for the Mars mission, things can still go wrong. For example, on December 28, 1973, three staff members of an early US space station, the Sky Lab, decided to cut off contact with ground control and refused to perform any tasks assigned to them. They called it “work slowdown.” “. The newspaper at the time said that the incident was the first strike in space.

Dr. Contraktor’s team wanted to know what was happening in the Skylab and whether the crew’s response could be avoided. They collected the dialogue records of Sky Labs during their years of providing shelter for astronauts and conducted text and web analysis on them to try to understand the nature of the relationship between people in the space station.

They found that the strike was due to the close relationship between the staff and the relationship between them and the team on Earth. Astronauts began to make a lot of negative descriptions of their daily tasks. They complained about each other’s workload, but never shared these ideas with ground control personnel. In this analysis, the signal of the problem is so clear that Dr. Contraktor’s team believes that they could have seen signs of a strike a week before the incident.

Therefore, in future Mars missions, experts will advise ground control personnel to record the conversations of astronauts, showing the details of the people involved in the conversation, the speed at which people respond to each other, and the mood of each conversation. Dr. Contraktor and his colleagues are creating algorithms that can capture this data and predict possible problems between astronauts or astronauts and the ground.

Forecasting problems is only the beginning. Ground control teams that monitor flight conditions can help astronauts still in the vicinity of the Earth resolve conflicts. However, during the execution of the Mars mission, the astronauts need to complete the task autonomously due to the long communication delay.

As a result, NASA engineers are working to develop software that can be used to analyze crew behavior data in real time and provide a digital consulting service to help them find ways to mitigate conflicts. Thomas Williams, an expert on human factors at the Johnson Space Center, said: “The good mental health status does not mean that there is no conflict, but how you deal with it.”

Researchers hope that all of this detailed understanding of the team will not only affect long-space missions. Behavioral scientists have tried to apply this “personal analysis” to the understanding of internal emotions. Perhaps they may replace performance appraisal, monitor the inclusiveness and diversity of corporate culture, discover high-potential personnel, or build a perfect team to accomplish certain tasks.

Dr. Contraktor said that it is not easy to build a perfect team for the long-term Mars mission, and there are many places worth learning. However, if humans need to travel to other parts of the solar system, then understanding the behavior of those who will carry equipment into space should increase the probability of successful navigation.