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Thread: Star Trek's space cafard — Is it a real concern?

  1. #1 Star Trek's space cafard — Is it a real concern? 
    Forum Professor jrmonroe's Avatar
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    Mar 2010
    Those of us familiar with the original Star Trek series (and the first Star Trek novel Mission to Horatius) will remember the TV episode that concerned "space cafard", a dangerous and contagious psychological disease caused by being cooped up on a spacecraft for too long. Such are the fantasies of fiction writing ... or are they?

    We all know about cabin fever. Then I read about the psychosocial isolation experiment MARS-500 conducted a few years ago. The Huffington Post reported that ...

    A similar experiment in 1999-2000 at the same Moscow institute went awry when a Canadian woman complained of being forcibly kissed by a Russian team captain. She also said two Russian crew members had a fist fight that left blood splattered on the walls. [However] Russian officials downplayed the incidents, attributing them to cultural gaps and stress.
    A book specifically on health risks on space exploration missions reported the serious psychological and social problems that ...

    Two-year assignments, which are common at the Russian Antarctic Station of Vostok, provide additional evidence that lengthier periods spent in isolation and confinement increase behavioral and psychiatric problems. ... The depth of psychological stress that was experienced by some at the Vostok station is vividly illustrated by the example of a wintering-over Russian male who, after losing a game of chess, murdered his opponent with an axe.
    A paper about Biosphere 2 reported that its "Isolated Confined Environment" (ICE) — although, unlike Vostok, an inherently back-to-nature experience — was psychologically, emotionally and socially stressful. Several factors caused this stress: the monotonous and overly-structured work, the on-duty 24/7 (ie, no vacation allowed) mentality, the lack of privacy, etc. The most serious factor was a difference of opinion that split the crew into two factions that never really resolved itself.

    One phenomenon that appears in many different types of "ICEs"is the so-called "third-quarter phenomenon". Apparently this period, from halfway to three-quarters through just about any "mission", be it in space, in a biopshere, or at an Antarctic station — and, interestingly, regardless of mission length — is the toughest to endure psychologically. It makes me think of mid-life crisis (after all, life is a mission of sorts).

    I even found a phenomenon called "The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine" (I'm not kidding) that may have a psychological cause due to life in isolation (ie, lumberjack camps).

    All this suggests that missions to Mars and beyond will require some amount of psychological/emotional/social/administrative "wiggle room" to allow the crew to continue being human.

    These incidents are all retrospective. Is anyone familiar with the prospects for what NASA and other space agencies are planning?

    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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