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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#183 - Isolation - Live at the Spacestore

This week the Podcast comes live over Zoom as part of Spacestore Live.

We look at the trip to Mars and Isolation.

“The nature of weightlessness, ionizing radiation, and psychological isolation need to be better understood in order to make spaceflight safer for astronauts of the future when we venture off to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond,”

Canadian astronaut Robert Thrisk

Cooped up in a few tiny rooms, with a handful of other people, for months at a time, with only access to video calls to loved ones. Sound familiar?

In some ways, we have all been getting a very small taste of what it might be like to take a trip to Mars. But as you’ll see I mean a small taste.

This episode is going to look at the journey to Mars, not what happens when you get there, that’s a completely different kettle of fish, just the journey.

Last time we were at the spacestore we talked about Artemis, well this time we’re going to take it a little bit further, as the Artemis Logo signifies we are really going to Mars or as

Trump asked Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins “what do you think about going to the moon again”, to which Collins replied, “Mars direct,” and bypass the Moon altogether.

Tump replied. “I mean, who knows better than these people. They’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. What about the concept of Mars direct?”

Trump tweeted

June 7th, “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon,” arguing we had already been there 50 years ago. “They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part)”

This all ignores the IDA SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY that had essentially put a nail in the NASA mission to Mars that had been enshrined in Policy only 2 years before.

Under current and notional NASA plans,

The Gateway, a small human-tended station in orbit around the Moon, would be assembled in space between 2023 and 2026 for the purpose of providing a platform to study the lunar environment, gain deep space operational experience, and stage missions to the Moon and Mars. Human missions to the Gateway are to be launched using the SLS and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion).

Deep Space Transport (DST)

While not explicitly noted in current NASA plans or budget requests, the next step for a human orbital mission to Mars would be the formulation, design, fabrication, assembly, integration, and testing of the vehicle that will take a crew to Mars orbit.

After several years of inspace testing, the DST will depart on a 1,100-day crewed mission to Mars orbit.

Almost certainly have to do it as a “conjunction Class” mission. So 1100 Day? Yes, pretty much 3 years!!! This looks like it would be the first Mission, a sort of Apollo 8 of Mars, potentially, Artemis 8, but probably a bigger number than that, Nasa are already up to the planning of Artemis 9 as a lunar crewed mission.

Looking at this graph, you can see why it’s important that this happens around 2033, 2035, miss that and you’ve potentially got to wait till 2050. This is due to the eccentricity of Mars' orbit, the energy needed in the low-energy windows varies on roughly a 15-year cycle with the easiest windows needing only half the energy of the peaks

Like Orion, the DST is to carry four astronauts. Astronauts going to Mars are to be transferred to the DST from Orion

  • The baseline human orbital trip to Mars is envisioned to involve a crew rendezvous

  • with the DST in a high Earth orbit.

  • The DST will then use a lunar gravity assist for Earth departure, which will augment a chemical burn.

  • It will use solar electric propulsion to transit to Mars, but use chemical propulsion to enter into a Mars orbit.

  • During the orbital trip, the crew will perform remote observations of Mars and its vicinity for 438 days (88 orbits).

  • The DST will then depart Mars’s gravity well using a chemical propulsion departure burn, but use electric propulsion to transit to Earth.

  • Lunar gravity is used to assist recapture into the Earth’s sphere of influence.

  • Orion will then rendezvous with the DST, and bring the astronauts back to Earth

  • Expected to take approximately 1,100 days (about 3 years).

an orbital mission to Mars requires four major architectural elements: SLS, Orion, Gateway, and the DST

So the DST is requires so many things to go right, it is at high-risk technology level, Notably, an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that meets the performance and reliability requirements of the DST is currently at a low technology readiness level.

But let’s assume that all these hurdles, Technologies to transfer cryogenic propellants and ,space suits suitable for repairs in deep space, etc etc are overcome.

THE DST in detail.

The DST is currently a notional vehicle meant to carry a crew of four on a +1,000 day

trip to Mars orbit and back to Earth.

  1. Habitat module and a notionally planned to have a volume of at least 100 cubic meters (the size of a large two-bedroom apartment), and support a crew of four for the 3-year mission, with private and public crew spaces, a galley, medical and exercise systems, and research stations

  2. Power and propulsion module, which may use a hybrid solar electric/chemical design.

  3. The DST will carry all of its consumables (propellant, food, etc.) for the three-year mission.

The DST’s systems must operate with limited maintenance for the entire mission.

The DST would be refurbished and refuelled at the Gateway between trips.

It is to have a lifetime of 15 years, and the ability to lie dormant for three.

So how do you feel now a 3 year mission stuck in a large 2 bed apartment, no walks, no fresh air, and the zoom link is totally crappy beyond comparison to what is happening here.

Taking a few spares!!

Many of the technologies required for the DST are beyond the current state of the art

on the ISS. Many technologies currently used on the ISS have a 2–3 year expected design

lifetime components would be exceeding their design lifetimes during the journey.

Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS)

The ISS currently recycles carbon dioxide back into oxygen with 42 per cent efficiency. According to internal NASA planning documents, the mission to Mars orbit would require 75 per cent recycling efficiency or higher.

Medical technologies.

Astronauts on the DST will need to be able to carry out their own medical diagnostics.

Many medical diagnostic technologies for use on the DST were at low TRLs in the 2015 Technology Roadmap, including technologies for reuse and sterilization of medical equipment, the development of an integrated medical diagnostic equipment and software suite, and drugs with long shelf lives for multi-year missions (NASA 2015).

Without effective medical mitigation measures that can be employed in a spaceship

environment, even routine medical issues that arise could become incapacitating or life-threatening.

According to the 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps, new technologies to mitigate the physiological effects of long-duration spaceflight are needed to address microgravity-induced challenges and isolation-induced performance issues.

Many technologies remain at low TRLs as of the 2015 NASA Technology Roadmap, including integrated prevention and treatment for changes in vision, flexible remediation

30 technologies (e.g., stem cell-based treatments), and low-footprint, effective exercise

technologies (NASA 2015).

Over the nearly six decades of human spaceflight, NASA has carefully set health standards for astronauts to prevent and mitigate negative health consequences and minimize the risk of death related to space travel. These standards are based on knowledge of more than 30 space-related health risks and on research on known and potential space-related health risks (NASA 2018d).

While no astronaut has died from health-related causes during normal in-space

operations—only in accidents—an extended mission of around 1,100 days introduces potential risks to astronauts’ health that are unprecedented in human experience.

Over the course of spaceflight history, humans have spent a combined total of more

than 50,000 days in space, with only 16 people going into deeps space and the number of individuals who have spent longer than half-a-year in space is very small handful, limiting our knowledge about the effects of these stays on human health. The average duration is 10 days. Valeri Polyakov completed the longest consecutive day space station stay (438days) in 1994–1995 on the Mir space station., not even half the time of this mission.

No mission longer than 90 days in deep space or 1 year i Leo is planned before the Mars mission!!!!

Cucinotta et al (2018)

Calculated that the upper 95 percent confidence interval around the risk of death from exposure to radiation and from cardiovascular damage could exceed 10 percent in both male and female astronauts,(on the mission, probably greater in long term),

NASA has identified 32 key health risks, 232 gaps in knowledge, and 1097

tasks to complete to fulfil the gaps in knowledge in the Human Research Program

Integrated Research Plan and accompanying human research roadmap website (referred

to collectively in this report as the human research roadmap) (NASA 2018d; NASA


While information on the effects of radiation on astronauts in deep space is lacking,

previous space missions on the ISS have been useful for elucidating health risks associated

with microgravity. Life in microgravity includes changes that result in health risks related

to the cardiovascular system (heart and circulation), immune system, integumentary system

(skin), musculoskeletal system, renal system (kidneys), and nervous system (brain, motor

functions, and so forth).

So let’s cut to what we have all probably been feeling a little Isolation!!!

  • The University of Hawaii, with funding from NASA, completed a 365-day isolation experiment in August 2016 to better understand potential issues associated with isolation during future Mars missions ( 2016).

  • Additional insights can be gained by understanding isolation associated with time on the ISS, research in Antarctica (Nicolas et al. 2016),

  • the Mars 500 mission (Pagel and Chouker 2016), and other isolation experiments or non-experimental isolation conditions.

Insights on group dynamics, human behaviour in isolation, and possible behavioural interventions resulting from this research, while valuable, do not accurately simulate the conditions of an extended duration 1,100-day mission in deep space, with no hope of rescue or resupply, communication delays, and only a distant Earth visible in the porthole.

Mars 500 (the longest)

  • Podcast 89 features a chat with the french member Romain Charles.

  • The Mars-500 mission was a psychosocial isolation experiment conducted between 2007 and 2011 by Russia, the European Space Agency and China, in preparation for an unspecified future manned spaceflight to the planet Mars.

  • The experiment's facility was located at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, Russia

  • Between 2007 and 2011, three different crews of volunteers lived and worked in a mock-up spacecraft at IBMP. The final stage of the experiment, which was intended to simulate a 520-day manned mission, was conducted by an all-male crew consisting of three Russians (Alexey Sitev, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexander Smoleevskij), a Frenchman (Romain Charles), an Italian (Diego Urbina) and a Chinese citizen (Yue Wang).

  • The mock-up facility simulated an Earth-Mars shuttle spacecraft, an ascent-descent craft, and the Martian surface. The volunteers who participated in the three stages included professionals with experience in engineering, medicine, biology, and human spaceflight.

  • The experiment yielded important data on the physiological, social and psychological effects of long-term close-quarters isolation.

  • More than 6,000 people from 40 countries applied for the 520-day third stage of the experiment.

The selected volunteers were three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese. They had a varying command of English, but not all spoke Russian

  • 1-11 days – a period of a flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Earth.

  • 51-204 days - a period of a flight on the heliocentric orbit up to the Martian vicinity.

  • 205-243 days - a period of a flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Mars("twist").

  • 244-272 days - a period of a flight on Martian orbit with a descent of the takeoff and landing module on the planet surface and returning to the Martian expeditionary facility. In this period we plan a simulation of three appearances of the group of 2 subjects on the Martian surface. At this time 3 crew members rested in the model of the Martian orbital facility perform observation and communication with the crew of the takeoff and landing module.

  • 273-309 days - a period of a flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Mars ("spinup")

  • 310-467 days - a period of a flight on the heliocentric orbit up to the Earth vicinity.

  • 468-520 days - a period of a flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Earth.

Remember DST is said to have 100 cubic meters,

MARS 500 was made up of 5 Modules.

  • Module EU-50 - 50m3 - martian landing Module

  • Module EU-100 - 2 berth Living Quarters, Kitchen-Diner, lav, offices, medical,

  • Module EU-150 - 6 Living Quarters, living room, Kitchen-Diner, lav,

  • Module EU-250 - Food Storage, gym, greenhouse

  • There was also a Mars Surface simulator (SMS)

Organization of the work and rest regime of the crew is conducted taking into account shift duties of one crew member at the main console:

Crew members live on the following regime:

  • sleep – 8.5 hours;

  • period after sleep – 1.5 hour (including 1 hour for breakfast);

  • daily operative meeting – 0.5 hour;

  • preparation for work, examination of the facility, familiarization with the time line of the day – 1.5 hour;

  • work with the systems – 2 hours;

  • implementation of the scientific experiments – 4 hours;

  • lunch - 1 hour;

  • physical trainings – 1 hour;

  • personal time and supper – 4 hours.

26 scientific projects on psychology were included into the program of “Mars-500” experiment. Psychologists have singled out 3 main directions of the investigations during the flight of the manned expedition to Mars:

  • support of psycho-emotional state, general and professional psychological working capacity during 520 days of the expedition;

  • support of efficient inter-group interaction in the multicultural crew,

  • interaction of the crew with the Control center in over-duration autonomous flight during increasing communication delay.

Psychological support

  • same methods and means are used, that with ISS crews (books, films, music, news surveys, etc.).

  • Means of psychological support were formed taking into account the opinion of each crew member and loaded before the beginning of the experiment. News surveys are transmitted three times a week on the computer net.

The psychological and emotional environment

It is worth saying that the verified in the experiment MARS-105 system of psychological selection has justified itself completely. The crew of 520-day isolation went through this stage as the single unity.

  • There were not any conflict situations, moreover no situations requiring interference of the ground-based services.

  • Difficulties during performance of some complicated investigation methodologies were overcome by the crew together. It is worth saying that cultural differences and language difficulties do not influence the quality of the implemented activity.

  • In communication constructive friendly style prevails.

  • The crew spends enough time together, for this they asked for films with titles in different languages, i. e. an opportunity appear to discuss the seen films together.

  • The crew together and beforehand prepares surprises for birthdays, big state holidays and informal holidays (on October 31 they celebrated Halloween).

  • It is possible to notice that the crew members somehow increased the time spent on individual activities that does not hamper communication.

  • There is not any division of the crew on language or any other interests.

  • The commander has the authority and is both formal and informal leader.

  • Each crew member is regularly the operator on duty, working at the main console EU-150, that allows to learn some types of works, that are on board engineer's functions.

At the present time, the psychological state of the crew complies with the prognosis of the specialists. At this signs of “the problem of the way back” is found, aggravated by psychic asthenisation (mental fatigue and weakness) at the background of sensory deprivation and monotony.

The international participants had no external cues such as the Sun going down at night to remind them when to sleep. Instead, they relied on artificial cues to regulate their sleep patterns such as checking their watches or being woken by other crewmembers.

ESA marsonaut Diego Urbina recalls: “Although there was an issue with sleeping patterns getting out of phase, it is amazing that the human body can adapt to a total lack of Sun.”

Isolated and confined environments (ICEs)

Results from Antarctic Missions,

  • confirm and give further insight into the role of social (Cohesiveness, Social Support) and occupational (Implementation/Preparedness, Counterproductive Activity, Decision Latitude, and Psychological Job Demands) dimensions of adaptation to ICEs.

  • Relationships between various social and occupational dimensions studies reflected detrimental effects ranging from decrements in cohesiveness, social support, and work performance which differed across professional status and multicultural factors.


  • For selection, the development of methods to choose subjects at the individual but also the group levels.

  • Pre-mission training should include pragmatic skills in interpersonal group dynamics, with team-building exercises involving both crewmembers and family and mission control personnel during pre-mission training and at the individual level, self-monitoring and enhancement in coping repertories.

  • During the mission, support should be oriented to telehealth (medicine and psychology) to prevent and assist with external specialists for in situ persons. These interventions and training can result in better interpersonal relationships and work performance.

  • For long-duration missions when real-time expert consultation will not be feasible, onboard artificial intelligence systems need to be targeted to both the individual level and the group as a whole.

  • Just as it may take a village to raise a child, it will take the entire crew to successfully conclude a long-duration space mission.

In the wider medical field

“The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical and psychosocial risk factors. However, our understanding of how and why social isolation is risky for health — or conversely — how and why social ties and relationships are protective of health, still remains quite limited”

James S. House, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2001, Issue 2, Volume 63, pages 273 - 274

Isolation among the elderly

  • Social isolation impacts approximately 24% of older adults in the United States, approximately 9 million people

  • Social isolation and loneliness in older adults is associated with an increased risk for poor mental and physical health and increased mortality

Isolation and Health

  • Studies have found social isolation is associated with increased risk in physical health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated stress hormones, and weakened immune systems. Isolation and

  • Social isolation has also been found to be associated with poor mental health including increased risk for depression, cognitive decline, anxiety, and substance use

  • Social isolation in elderly individuals is also associated with an increased risk for dementia

  • Scientists have long known that loneliness in adults can predispose depressive symptoms later in life. Lately, they have also seen that lonely children are more susceptible to depressive symptoms in youth

  • Socially isolated children tend to have lower subsequent educational attainment

Solitary Confinement

People suffer in these environments, experiencing a range of what can be severe, negative psychological effects, including forms of depression and hopelessness. Sometimes they become so despondent they attempt to take their own life. The highest rates of suicide and self-harm occur in solitary confinement units.

People experience anxiety attacks. They feel as if they’re on the verge of a breakdown, they spend countless hours worrying about whether they’re going to be able to come out of this with their sanity intact. Frankly, some of them are unable to. Some people lose their grip on reality.

Over time, something less obvious but more insidious happens. Solitary confinement requires people to learn to live in a world without people. It’s the denial of meaningful social engagement with others. To tolerate that, you begin to structure your world, your psyche around not having the presence of other people in your life. Then other people start to become aversive stimuli to you. You’ve been isolated so long, your social skills begin to atrophy. Many prisoners have told me they now feel uncomfortable around people

There is a difference between loneliness (the imposition of social isolation) and aloneness (the choice of being alone), and thus the brain reacts in very different ways

Recent research shows that space missions cause the brain’s gray matter to deteriorate in a manner reminiscent of ageing, but much faster.

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