The polar regions are not only of interest to natural scientists engaged in research on Earth. The Arctic and Antarctic are also important places for space travel. This is because the conditions at many locations in the two polar regions are suitable for testing vehicles and equipment in the field. Two Danish architects have also taken advantage of ideal conditions in the north of Greenland to test their self-developed module, with themselves as test subjects. The influences of social isolation on their psyche were also examined.
The two architects, Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sørensen, spent a total of 61 days near Morsiuaq in their MARK-1 module, where they had to operate under realistic conditions and carry out work outside the module in space suits. Research, commissioned in advance, was also undertaken inside. But even more important was the study of the influence of social isolation on the mental state of the two subjects. This study was accompanied by an international research team from the Universities of Surrey and Milano-Biococca and has now been published in the journal Acta Astronautica .
The results of the psychological tests, in the form of questionnaires, diaries and activity measurements, showed that negative emotions such as depression, hopelessness and helplessness, and separation from colleagues became less and less frequent through conversations about personal matters and joint leisure activities, as well as exercise. At the same time, however, the two test subjects’ urge to make social contacts increased. In addition, activities were able to improve the perception of the flow of time, that is, the days did not seem endless. Especially the darkness of space, tested by the onset of polar night, which prevailed during the test phase, and the lack of sunlight, are important factors in this regard, which have a strong influence on the psychological development of space travelers. Limited communication with Earth is also a stressor. This was tested by allowing the two architects to send text messages of 160 characters using only a satellite phone.
The results of the study were very important according to Konstantin Chterev, a doctoral student of psychology at the University of Surrey. “Research to address the technical challenges of human missions into space is growing at a rapid rate. Therefore, it is critical that we explore the social-psychological aspects of individuals’ experiences of confinement within these habitats,” he explains. “We know that social isolation is among one of the main risk factors in these environments, but we still have a lot to learn. Work like this will be able to inform future training and the planning of schedules in extreme environment expeditions and lunar missions, in which it is crucial to balance mission-critical tasks and physical wellbeing with protecting psychological wellbeing and mitigating the negative effects of long-term isolation.” This study is just one of many papers produced as part of the LUNARK project.
The module that was used for the study was developed and built by the two architects over a two-year period. Its design was inspired by tree leaves. “We created an origami habitat that evolves from a tight bud into a large oval-shaped building with a sturdy shell made of carbon fiber,” the team writes on its website. “Its outer shell is as strong as a tank while the interior is modeled after a cozy home, similar to a Nordic ‘hygge’.” The module was built in a kind of folding system to ensure the most efficient transportation and set-up.
The LUNARK project test site is located near the northern Greenlandic hamlet of Moriusaq, about 80 kilometers south-west of Qaanaaq, and 40 kilometers north-west of Thule Airbase. The project team found ideal conditions for test the module near an abandoned titanium mine: sufficiently remote from civilization and harsh climatic conditions to adequately test the materials. What may have been somewhat moon-like, however, were possible polar bear visits to the module.
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