Astronauts face mental and emotional challenges for deep space travel. Scientists are working on solutions
But the floating freedom offered by a lack of gravity also presents a number of limits when it comes to the human body and mind.
Short trips to space from the early Mercury and Apollo missions have turned into stays of six months or longer aboard the International Space Station. The floating laboratory has served as an ideal backdrop for scientists trying to understand what truly happens to every aspect of the human body in the space environment — radiation, lack of gravity and all.
Many of those effects have been well documented over time, especially during the 2019 Twins Study that compared the changes Scott Kelly experienced after a nearly a year in space with those of his twin brother, Mark, who remained on Earth.
Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine partnered with NASA on this research, and he and Scott Kelly spoke about those findings at the 2022 Life Itself conference, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.
“What was the thing that you missed the most about Earth when you were away for a year?” Mason asked Kelly.
“The weather, of course. The rain, the sun, the wind,” Kelly said. “And then I miss people … that are important to you, you know, your family, your friends.”
As NASA plans to return humans to the moon and eventually land on Mars through the Artemis program, there is heightened interest in understanding what effects could be brought on by long-duration travel through deep space.
A big question some scientists have asked is if humans are mentally and emotionally prepared for such a big leap. In short: How will we handle it?