The Martian Chronicles
Issue 8, Winter 2001

Psychological Effects on a Mars Mission
by Brian Finifter

The first group of human explorers (4 to 6 people) heading for the Martian frontier will be confined within a spacecraft that has roughly the same amount of internal volume as a trailer home, for the longest space mission in the history of human exploration. Mankind has experienced this type of isolation before, and under much worse conditions in some cases. But never before will so few people be confined together for so long a time. We know what sort of problems the crew will encounter, but there are still many unknowns in how humans will adapt to face them. In these conditions, trivial idiosyncrasies, which would otherwise be tolerated and dealt with, become sources of significant conflict. Daily habits that we are ourselves not aware of, such as knuckle cracking or table manners, may anger our fellow crewmates to the point of causing a serious rift in crew relations and even risks to the mission.

Likewise, some people are more suited for the forced confinement than others. Somebody who is not carefully screened could lapse into depression and antisocial behavior. The habitat also plays a major role in the mindset of the astronauts. It must be carefully designed, taking into account the affect our environment has on us (such as lighting, communications, floor layout, etc). If humans are to be the strong link in a human Mars mission, we must explore and understand these variables very well. Some of the variables can be explored on the International Space Station. Additionally, studying the astronautsí response to an extended mission stay on the Martian surface can be better simulated and explored in the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in the Canadian High Arctic, where the geomorphological environment is very similar to what is likely to be encountered on Mars. Utilizing these new simulations scenarios, we are better able to determine the best measures to be employed in sending the best-suited crew, ensuring the maximum possible efficiency, effectiveness, and success in a critical situation.