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Psi-Chi-ology Lab
 
Effects Before and After Traveling to Space
  May 1, 2017

Esteemed space psychologist Dr. Nick Kanas recently shared five important psychological stressors to expect during long-duration space travel. In that Eye on Psi Chi magazine article, he paints a vivid and sometimes frightening picture of space travel, complete with the effects of long communication delays and seeing the earth as no more than an insignificant dot. However, there are also psychological stressors that take place before and after a mission, which he discusses here today.

Before Liftoff
How would you feel if you knew that you would be traveling to outer space tomorrow?! Despite what you might think, Dr. Kanas explains that most astronauts are actually fairly excited. He says, “They do a lot of training. Right now, with the space shuttle missions, training lasts at least a year where the crews train together so that they get to know each other and practice a lot of the activities ahead.”

“Once in a while,” he explains, “if someone had a medical problem or the crew didn’t get along, the crew on the forefront will be scrubbed. But by and large, the training is pretty good. It is very difficult to predict psychologically who will do well in space. But you can predict who won’t do well, so there are a lot of screening select-out procedures so that they do not send up certain people if they can’t get along or if they have phobias or so on.”

A large part of finding a strong team involves putting people together who look like they will do well, and then watching them under different conditions of stress and simulations. “That’s what they do nowadays,” Dr. Kanas says. “They pretty much put together a crew based on a lot of factors and then see how they do in their training before they launch.”



After Return

“Coming back is another issue,” Dr. Kanas continues. “There are two issues related to returning.”

1. Reintegrating with family. “When you’ve been in space for, let’s say, a year, and you come back, you need a little time of privacy to help you reintegrate before things feel comfortable, and the ability to do that is well understood. Astronauts, after their period of quarantine, are usually allowed some private time with their families to try to get back into the scheme of things again.”

2. Dealing with the fame and the glory. “This is especially challenging after high-profile missions such as the first historic moon mission,” Dr. Kanas says. “In these cases, crewmembers return and try to reintegrate and get back to their normal lives, only to be thrust into a media spin. All of a sudden, they are expected to give a lot of presentations and travel a lot, but many astronauts and cosmonauts aren’t really into that. For them, all the social attention they get from the media can be very stressful when they just want to get back to their lives and fly again.” As an example of an astronaut who had difficulty with reintegration after a historic flight, Dr. Kanas cites Buzz Aldrin, who wrote a book on his integration and the problems he had with his marriage and alcoholism.

Conduct a Lab Experiment

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of the many psychological stressors that astronauts face. Psi Chi members, please join us on our private LinkedIn group to tell us how you would feel if you were going to space. And don’t forget to read Dr. Kanas’s Eye on Psi Chi interview too.

 
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