Isolation From Earth May Drive Changes in How Space Colonies Communicate With Home

Human beings living off-world pose many unknowns. Our species has never lived off-world. How will we respond physically and mentally when the time comes for us to settle down on other planets.
An interesting new study, based on simulations of human behavior on Earth, reveals some surprising insights. The first is that communication with the outside world, so colleagues back at the base, tends not to get more frequent over time. Second, group cohesion for crew members of the space colony crew tends improve as the mission goes on.

This is a very promising sign for future settlers on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere. They will need to rely heavily on their own initiative and work together in every situation, as is the case here.

Dmitry Shved, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), said that crews on such missions tend to decrease their communication with mission control when they are isolated, and share their problems and needs less.

Data for the study were taken from two SIRIUS simulations (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) that were run in Russia. One covered a period of 17 and one covered a period lasting 120 days. To better match the experience of astronauts on other moons and planets, an artificial delay in communications was implemented.

Researchers also recorded the frequency of contact. They also analysed video messages for facial expressions and the intensity, frequency and variability of speech patterns. As part of the experiments, researchers also recorded the types of emotions that were expressed.

Communication frequency declined over time, with the exception of important missions events like landing simulations. Crew cohesion improved and communication styles of crew members converged into the same patterns, despite differences in gender and cultural backgrounds.

For example, in the simulation of four months, mission control received 115 to 120 video messages in the following weeks. This was a drop from 200 video messages in the first week of isolation. The video messages' duration also decreased.

Shved says, "Our findings demonstrate that crews in autonomous conditions undergo psychological autonomy, becoming less dependent upon mission control."

"Also crews living in such conditions tends to increase their cohesion because crew members become closer to one another despite any cultural or personal differences. These phenomena are promising for future explorations of the solar system, or any teams working on Earth in isolation.

In recent years, there have been many similar experiments. These include the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) test that lasted a year and the MARS 500 simulation that lasted 520 days and produced similar results as this study.

Additional simulations have already begun, including the SIRIUS-21 experiment which will last for eight months. We should have plenty data by the time we are able to predict what will happen when humans actually live on other worlds.

Shved says that "our findings pose serious questions that must be considered [before sending crews on the moon, Mars and other planets]".

"The most promising thing is that the crews appear to be more autonomous and independent of Earth." Crew cohesion is expected to help them deal with many problems on their mission.

Frontiers in Psychology published the research.