January 11, 2013 9:00 am
In order to go to Mars, first astronauts have to fake going to Mars. They do simulations, train and sit around for a really, really long time. One of the biggest challenges to a Mars mission is just how long it takes to get there. And before you sign up for this Mars trip, you might want to be sure you’re ready to be very, very bored for a long time. In longest simulated space mission ever, six men spent 17 months in a pretend spaceship. They ended up sleeping for a good deal of it, The Guardian reports:
Though chosen for the job as the best of the best, the would-be spacefarers spent more and more time under their duvets and sitting around idle as the mission wore on. The crew’s activity levels plummeted in the first three months, and continued to fall for the next year.
On the return leg, the men spent nearly 700 hours longer in bed than on the outward journey, and only perked up in the last 20 days before they clambered from their capsule in November 2011. Four crew members suffered from sleep or psychological issues.
They also received less and less exposure to light as the mission went on. The study that came out of this whole experiment was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors write:
The results point to the need to identify markers of differential vulnerability to hypokinesis and sleep–wake changes during the prolonged isolation of exploration spaceflight and the need to ensure maintenance of circadian entrainment, sleep quantity and quality, and optimal activity levels during exploration missions. Therefore, successful adaptation to such missions will require crew to transit in spacecraft and live in surface habitats that instantiate aspects of Earth’s geophysical signals (appropriately timed light exposure, food intake, exercise) required for temporal organization and maintenance of human behavior.
Imagine how boring Star Trek would have been if the entire crew was in bed all the time. Plus, astronauts can’t arrive at an entirely new planet and decide they need a nap.
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