LIVING ALOFT: Human Requirements for Extended Spaceflight

 

9. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS.

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES

 

 

[328] It is our belief that future experimentation on human psychological and social adjustment to space must lean heavily on the use of operational or realistically simulated operational environments. Although the limited-variable laboratory experiment will continue to play a role in the quest for better understanding of life in space, there is a need to study the adjustment to complex sets of variables which approximate, if not duplicate, the space experience.

 

[329] Situations and Environ meets

 

Situations requiring that groups be isolated and confined have provided, and will continue to provide, a fertile source of information relevant to space. Submarines and other naval vessels, oil rigs and supertankers, as well as manned weather stations, diving bells, and remote military bases all simulate certain aspects of isolation, confinement, and risk found in spaceflight. For instance, the benefits to be derived from in-group use of crisis-intervention techniques or other helping behaviors in space could be examined by studying similar techniques aboard ship. Or, questions regarding the changing use of leisure with time and experience in space could take advantage of repeat confinees such as submariners or Arctic explorers. Arctic oil drillers offer a special opportunity for studying large crews of 750 to 1,000 individuals. Simulation projects themselves should not be ignored. A systems test of hardware or hardware/human factors can be informative in regard to other aspects of performance or to the question of human interactions.

Some issues of interest to space can be addressed by studying ground populations in normal settings. For instance, we know little of what motivates individuals to persist in exercise programs. Acquisition of even such basic information could aid the design of exercise programs for space. Problem definition groups, such as those frequently convened in private industry or by NASA, constitute a mission-oriented group not unlike that of a spacecrew. A casual observation of the dynamics of such groups suggests that there is much to be learned from a careful assessment of how these groups move toward consensus.

Some research opportunities may come from novel sources. For instance, airbeds used to treat burn patients could be used to simulate sleep research for space. Bedrest studies, such as those conducted at Ames Research Center, have proven to be a good method of assessing many biomedical and, more recently, performance aspects of spaceflight. Bedrest studies could also constitute the setting for studying communications questions such as the use of mediated systems for affective links with family and friends, or for training experiments to improve communications between crew and ground control.

Most confined groups that have been the subject of research examination have been composed of highly similar individuals; as a result, we have only limited knowledge of how diverse crews would [330] perform in space. Almost any situation providing the opportunity to study diverse crews working together in space-like environments could be highly informative. The U.S. Navy now has men and women serving side by side on certain vessels. These assignments provide a valuable opportunity to examine mixed-gender living and working arrangements over time. It has been proposed that the United Nations sponsor an International Sea Service to explore the ocean bottom. If a suggestion of this nature were to be implemented, it could provide an opportunity to study multinational crews. Special attention could be given to verbal and nonverbal communication as well as to the broader relational aspects of culturally diverse groups.

When dealing with very long-term effects, only a few environments offer simulation opportunities. Historically, prison populations have been rejected as sources of information relevant to space. Inmates of jails and crews on spaceflights probably have little in common. Yet both find themselves in long-term situations of high risk without the possibility of leaving. We would suggest that, rather than rejecting prison populations out of hand, one should examine carefully what might be learned in this environment. Similarities can also be found in institutions such as convents and seminaries, in religious or philosophical sects, and in kibbutzim. It should be remembered that information, even from seemingly unrelated sources, can provide important insights, especially when dealing with the long-duration effects so difficult for experimenters to study.

Spaceflight itself is an obvious but underused resource for conducting research on psychological and social adjustment to space. For some questions, such as the prolonged effects of O-g, space is the only appropriate environment; for others, it is simply the preferred environment. In either case, it should not be overlooked. The development of a space laboratory or a space station would present the opportunity to observe "breakoff" or other transcendent experiences. The inclusion of payload specialists from the European Space Agency could provide useful material on mixed crews. James Beggs, the NASA Administrator, has announced intentions to fly private citizens aboard the Space Shuttle (NASA Activities, 13(10), Oct. 1982). This decision could open up a number of research opportunities; for example, a chance to examine the responses to weightlessness of individuals who are of average physical condition, and to explore social questions such as the acceptance of members who are not part of the traditional group.

 

[331] Methods and Approaches

 

Concentrating on applied research means that researchers must contend with the difficulties and limitations of field research as described in our opening chapter. Along with identifying and developing opportunities in which useful parallels to space exist, researchers must also identify and develop appropriate methods and approaches. This may mean abandoning an experimental approach in favor of a quasi-experimental or even a nonexperimental orientation. Although some situations may provide an opportunity for simulated pre- and post- mission testing, others may require that the researcher rely on post facto or survey research techniques. A researcher should also consider the practicality of unobtrusive measures such as remote surveillance, or of participant observation, or even such unconventional approaches as role-playing.

For one interested in advancing the understanding of space, the important factor is to determine where and how information can be gathered. We believe that there are certain factors that will aid this process. The first is simply to think in terms of space questions. As alluded to above, many projects and institutional arrangements offer an opportunity to examine issues relevant to space; the opportunities suggested here are only a sampling of those that will occur to a watchful observer. An attitude of thinking in terms of the conditions of spaceflight can convert many environments into environments suitable for human spaceflight-related research.

Another factor involves looking for opportunities to "piggyback," or tag along, on ongoing programs. Some research, such as fear reactions, can, for ethical reasons, be done only by piggybacking on existing programs. But piggybacking has practical advantages, even when it is not essential. Most of the opportunities, such as those listed above, are conducted for purposes of their own-either in the public interest or to satisfy some private commercial endeavor. By piggybacking on such activities, needed space research can be done for a small fraction of the cost otherwise required.

Finally, research needs should be combined whenever possible. Again, the essential ingredient is to think in terms of human needs in spaceflight, rather than limiting one's view to narrow research interests. By attempting to include others whose research could proceed in parallel with one's own, a greater net benefit could be gained from the ongoing activity.


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