Space psychology

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Space psychology refers to applying psychology to advise human spaceflight. This includes applying industrial and organizational psychology to team selection, individual and team mental preparation, team training, and ongoing psychological support, [1] and applying human factors and ergonomics to the construction of spacecraft to ensure sufficient habitability.


Components of industrial/organizational psychology

The field is necessary for planning for and accomplishing successful human spaceflight missions by ensuring readiness for the unique physiological and psychological challenges posed by spending extended time in closed isolated environments like spacecraft. It is critical that each team member functions individually and as a team in order to avoid human error, overcome unforeseeable challenges, and complete the mission. Due to the importance of team reliance on mission success, the field has focused on team composition and cohesion in spaceflight missions ever since 1957's Project Mercury. This involves applying and conducting research from social psychology, group dynamics, group performance and team psychology, and applying it to select team members that will be able to live together in close quarters for an extended amount of time, and create team training programs that improve team performance. [2] In addition to teamwork, there is an assortment of psychological and sociological effects of spaceflight that needs to be addressed in order to plan for successful space missions, such as loneliness, unavailability of familial mental health support, elevated levels of stress due to demanding tasks, and reduced material comforts.

Components of human factors and ergonomics

To ensure habitability of constructed spacecraft, human factors and ergonomics specialists must advise on environmental requirements such as lighting, room layout and design, sound requirements, and solutions for the physiological challenges posed by being in an environment without gravity. [3]

Human Factor in space has to deal not only with adapting to different physical habitats, but also to different social habitats and different communication settings. New activities such as performing human extravehicular activity (EVA) beyond the low Earth orbit environment require complex synchronization methods. The ergonomic approach to these environments has to include new variables, such as time delay in communication due to speed of light transmission limitations. Astronauts will become increasingly isolated from Earth-based mission support and thus will rely heavily on their own decision-making capabilities and onboard tools to accomplish proposed EVA mission objectives. [4]


Most published research specific to space psychology has been conducted by NASAs Human Systems Integration Division. [5] Tests conducted to ensure team success include putting a team in airtight quarters on earth for an extended period of time: in the Lunar-Mars Life Support Test. [6] In the context of space flight, teamwork is an essential ingredient in successful missions. A variety of adverse influences may negatively impact the performance of mission teams both on the ground and in flight. Such influences may include physical stressors on the organism such as diurnal disruption, effects of microgravity, injury, or task overload as well as psychological factors such as social isolation, role overload, or interpersonal conflict among team members. Given the importance of team effectiveness, NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance Element (BHP) has identified a need to monitor the functioning of teams, primarily using unobtrusive means. The purpose of such monitoring lies in providing a stream of indicators that can serve several operational goals:

  1. Monitoring during personnel selection activities can provide input for the selection of compatible team members and of individuals with psychological profiles suited to teamwork in extreme environments and situations.
  2. Monitoring during training activities can provide diagnostic information useful in guiding further instruction and coaching as well as in determining the composition of teams prior to mission deployment.
  3. Monitoring during missions can provide forewarning of potential operational failures due to disruptions. [7]

Related Research Articles

Extravehicular activity Activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft

Extravehicular activity (EVA) is any activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth's appreciable atmosphere. The term most commonly applies to a spacewalk made outside a craft orbiting Earth. On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov became the first human to perform a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds. The term also applied to lunar surface exploration performed by six pairs of American astronauts in the Apollo program from 1969 to 1972. On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to perform a moonwalk, outside his lunar lander on Apollo 11 for 2 hours and 31 minutes. On the last three Moon missions astronauts also performed deep-space EVAs on the return to Earth, to retrieve film canisters from the outside of the spacecraft. Astronauts Pete Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz also used EVA in 1973 to repair launch damage to Skylab, the United States' first space station.

Human spaceflight Space travel by humans

Human spaceflight is space travel with a crew or passengers aboard the spacecraft. Spacecraft carrying people may be operated directly, by human crew, or it may be either remotely operated from ground stations on Earth or be autonomous, able to carry out a specific mission with no human involvement.

Mars Direct

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A life support system is the combination of equipment that allows survival in an environment or situation that would not support that life in its absence. It is generally applied to systems supporting human life in situations where the outside environment is hostile, like in space or underwater, or medical situations where the health of the person is compromised to the extent that the risk of death would be high without the function of the equipment.

Effect of spaceflight on the human body

Venturing into the environment of space can have negative effects on the human body. Significant adverse effects of long-term weightlessness include muscle atrophy and deterioration of the skeleton. Other significant effects include a slowing of cardiovascular system functions, decreased production of red blood cells, balance disorders, eyesight disorders and changes in the immune system. Additional symptoms include fluid redistribution, loss of body mass, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, and excess flatulence.

Jane Poynter American environmentalist

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MARS-500 Psychosocial isolation experiment conducted between 2007 and 2011 by Russia, the European Space Agency and China.

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 crewed 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.

Outline of space exploration Overview of and topical guide to space exploration

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Astronautical hygiene evaluates, and mitigates, hazards and health risks to those working in low-gravity environments. The discipline of astronautical hygiene includes such topics as the use and maintenance of life support systems, the risks of the extravehicular activity, the risks of exposure to chemicals or radiation, the characterization of hazards, human factor issues, and the development of risk management strategies. Astronautical hygiene works side by side with space medicine to ensure that astronauts are healthy and safe when working in space.

Space architecture

Space architecture, in its simplest definition, is the theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space.


The O/OREOS is an automated CubeSat nanosatellite laboratory approximately the size of a loaf of bread that contains two separate astrobiology experiments on board. Developed by the Small Spacecraft Division at NASA Ames Research Center, the spacecraft was successfully launched as a secondary payload on STP-S26 led by the Space Test Program of the United States Air Force on a Minotaur IV rocket from Kodiak Island, Alaska on November 19, 2010.

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is a NASA-funded consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and developing solutions to reduce those risks. The NSBRI was founded in 1997. NSBRI's 16,400-square-foot headquarters facility is located in the BioScience Research Collaborative in Houston, Texas. The Institute shares the facility with Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Space Medicine. The official opening was held March 19, 2012.

Human analog missions are activities undertaken on Earth in various environments to simulate aspects of human missions to other worlds, including the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. These remote field tests are performed in locations that are identified based on their physical similarities to the extreme space environments of a target mission. Such activities are undertaken to test hardware and operational concepts in relevant environments.

Jonathan Dory Human Systems Integration Lead at NASAs Johnson Space Center

Jonathan Robert Dory is a Human Systems Integration Lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. He is Branch Chief of NASA's Habitability and Human Factors Branch, part of the Habitability and Environmental Factors Division at NASA/JSC. Dory supports crew safety and productivity on the International Space Station (ISS) Program by planning and assessing the on-orbit interior configuration of ISS, as well as performing anthropometric analysis of crew tasks. He contributes to the integrated operation of the Space Station while using 3D computer graphics and animation software as part of his daily work. In July 2002, Dory served as an aquanaut on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 3 crew.

Astronaut training describes the complex process of preparing astronauts for their space missions before, during and after the flight, which includes medical tests, physical training, extra-vehicular activity (EVA) training, procedure training, rehabilitation process, as well as training on experiments they will accomplish during their stay in space.

Team composition and cohesion in spaceflight missions

Selection, training, cohesion and psychosocial adaptation influence performance and, as such, are relevant factors to consider while preparing for costly, long-duration spaceflight missions in which the performance objectives will be demanding, endurance will be tested and success will be critical.

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Skylab controversy Skylab mutiny

A work slowdown, characterized by some writers as the Skylab strike, Skylab mutiny or the Skylab controversy, was instigated by the crew of Skylab 4 during some or all of December 28, 1973—the last of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Skylab missions. According to Michael Hiltzik, the three astronauts, Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue, turned off radio communications with NASA ground control and spent time relaxing and looking at the Earth before resuming communication with NASA, refusing communications from mission control during this period. Once communications resumed, there were discussions between the crew and NASA. The mission continued for several more weeks before the crew returned to Earth in 1974. The 84-day mission was Skylab's last crew, and last time American astronauts set foot in a space station for two decades, until Shuttle–Mir in the 1990s.

Deep Space Transport A crewed interplanetary spacecraft concept

The Deep Space Transport (DST), also called Mars Transit Vehicle, is a crewed interplanetary spacecraft concept by NASA to support science exploration missions to Mars of up to 1,000 days. It would be composed of two elements: an Orion capsule and a propelled habitation module. As of late 2019, the DST is still a concept to be studied, and NASA has not officially proposed the project in an annual U.S. federal government budget cycle.

Lunar Gateway Planned lunar international space station

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  1. Freiberg, Peter. (1998). "Psychology keeps astronauts well grounded."Monitor, American Psychological Association, March Edition, p. 17
  2. Novotney, Amy. (2013). "I/O psychology goes to Mars" Monitor on Psychology
  3. Whitmire, Alexandra. (2014). "The Use of Psychology to Inform the Design of Future Space Vehicles and Habitats". American Psychological Association Convention Presentation
  4. Miller, Matthew (June 2015). "Information flow model of human extravehicular activity operations". IEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings 2015. doi:10.1109/AERO.2015.7118942.
  5. Caldwell, Barrett. (2006). "Group Performance and space flight teams: Chapter 8" in Bowers, Salas and Jentsch. (2006). "Creating High-Tech Teams: Practical Guidance on Work Performance and Technology." American Psychological Association
  6. Nasa Lunar-Mars Life Support Test
  7. Veronica Maidel, & Jeffrey M. Stanton (2010), Unobtrusive Monitoring of Spaceflight Team Functioning. Literature Review and Operational Assessment for NASA Behavioral Health and Performance Element. School of Information Studies, Syracuse University.