Guest Post: The Psychology of Adaption and Design in Space

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Standing on the lunar surface, the Apollo 11 astronauts took what became one of the most universally iconic photographs in history: The Earthrise over the lunar surface. Each of the astronauts who witnessed this experience of looking back and seeing the contained finite dimension of the Earth described that this view was a turning point in their lives that transformed how they saw the Earth and her capabilities and vulnerabilities. Each of them felt a calling to look after and protect the Earth and teach others to do likewise. Projects culminating in sustained human exploration of space will bring forward a shift in our collective meme of understanding as well as how we design. This will potentially change everything. Not only the intention of how we put the technologies and projects together, but our very thoughts of human consciousness will begin to be rearticulated into a clearer and more coherent integrated framework.

 

We are on the verge of synergising these transitions of collective perspective-taking. Equally, it is my understanding that the profound challenges sharpen the focus to help us grapple with these deeper layers of our collective human history and identity. That part of exploring the unknown means grappling with the inner as well as with the outer worlds, and how these mutually influence one another. This includes what is within each of us, but particularly the collective aspects of what underpins the nature of our humanity and humankind. In relation to design and space, this can offer an opportunity to delve into where there are problems, and potentially look at multiple ways to understand and possibly address these foundational design problems of sustainability.


Psychological limitations in space
The neuropsychological and psychological limitations of the standard approaches to space medicine and psychology include issues of adapting to zero-g during the space voyage; issues like fluid shift (where without gravity the body fluid moves from the legs to the head); inner ear disequilibrium (disorientation to place because of weakening of the gravitational force); muscle wasting; and the effects of radiation are just some of the central standard issues that can take a toll on the physiology of the body during even short duration space travel. The simulations and studies of sleep deprivation, continual dark, isolation, and high-stress environments establish that human bandwidth, decision making, and emotional responses can all be severely affected with these challenges. What is less understood are the unique individual triggers, as well as what really establishes the greater robust factors for resiliency.

We can examine Mars analogue missions like Mars 500, the 520-day Russian simulation of a voyage to the Red Planet. This simulation concluded that out of six crewmembers, four had serious psychological problems. Only two were understood as relatively psychologically well. HI Seas year long NASA-funded programme, based in remote Hawaii, all located issues with crew emotional functioning with isolation and small spaces. The cultural and language diversity, gender and sexual tensions, as well as power struggles and territoriality can completely compromise billion-dollar projects. Our understanding of how design affects our well-being (or even larger social dynamics) for an individual as well as a group is an essential part of mission success. With the development of the next major steps for Space, psychology will open up entirely new vistas for understanding the psychological sphere is functioning. The high-risk stakes for a mission to the Lunar surface or, even more so, to Mars, brings the interface with technology and how core the psychological is to making these next quantum steps in becoming an interplanetary species.


The role of human-centred design
We think of design more in terms of the 11 years of the progression of the iPhone rather than the evolution of flowering plants, which has spanned more than 350 million years. There are so many different aspects that need to encompass everything from understating the functioning and the tenants of our own mind. What our imagination can create, the vehicles, the places that we can live in, the tools we use, what we grow. These short-term, as well as longer visions of space exploration, require us to design with both of these problems sets in mind. All of these require the interface between the outcomes of brilliant scientific innovation to discover new technologies. We need to harness the steadfast capacities of human psychology and creativity, as well as utilise the collective financial commitment, and public support. The interface for all of these aspects is required to ensure we are setting ourselves the right challenges to produce the best outcomes we are truly capable of creating.


Dr Richard Sherry

Dr Richard Sherry is one of the speakers at BIO's Designing For Space event. 

Richard is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist. His company, Psychological Systems Ltd., specialises in development for remote psychological assessment tools and specialist interventions across a wide range of areas. He has a special interest in complex environments including deep space psychology. 

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