Reading aloud Life in the space station. It is a constant tightrope walk between harmony and psychostress, as Russian experiences in particular show. The planners of the International Space Station have come up with a lot to make the future crew in the space laboratory life as comfortable as possible: Dark paneled floors, light walls and lamps on the "ceiling" should give the crew a sense of "top" and convey "below". A well-designed interior is designed to radiate comfort. Through portholes in the living area and a specially designed dome, the spacers will be able to enjoy the view of the blue glowing home.

However, even the thought-out interior design of the interior is unlikely to prevent life on board putting a heavy strain on the crew. Monthly isolation of family and friends, lack of variety and hardly any new sensory stimuli, interpersonal relationships limited to a handful of other people and limited spatial conditions mean that the astronauts are under constant stress.

As a flight engineer on the Russian space station Mir Thomas Reiter has learned which psychological hardships can bring isolation and narrowness. From September 1995 to February 1996, the Bundeswehr pilot and commander of the flying squadron of Jagdbombergeschwader 38 lived in the East Frisian town of Jever in zero gravity - almost half a year, longer than any other Western European. He rounded the earth almost 3, 000 times during the 179 days in space together with his two Russian colleagues Sergei Awdejew and Yuri Gidsenko. After about a month on board, as the initial enthusiasm and fascination of the new made way for a daily routine, Reiter became increasingly aware of the confinement in the capsule. "Towards the end of the mission, I had the impression that the station was shrinking more and more, " he recalls. After about four months in space, he began to count the weeks, days and hours until he returned home.

Of particular importance during the mission, the long-term astronaut experienced occasional lapses of everyday life, such as the Sunday family video conference, exits from the ward, or the arrival of the Progress delivery box with post, video, and fresh food. In addition, the work proved to be highly effective against "hangover". display

"The best motivation on a space flight arises when something is right to do, " says Reinhold Ewald, who stayed on Mir in February 1997 for 18 days. The ground crew in the Russian control center near Moscow is therefore constantly striving to employ the spacemen permanently, so as not to cause idle or boredom on board. "If I imagine not being busy up there, then that's hell, " says Thomas Reiter. "Even the fantastic view of the earth would then probably only help for a short time." Experience in dealing with psychological problems, which brings a longer stay in space for the crew, have so far collected almost exclusively the Russians. However, in the US, little attention was given to psychological aspects in the selection and preparation of crew members of US space stations such as the Skylab or Space Shuttle in the past.

"During the entire space shuttle project, not a single astronaut was psychologically selected or specially trained, " Dr. Dietrich Manzey from the Department of Psychology at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Hamburg. One of the reasons: NASA recruited most of its astronauts from the US Air Force pilots. They were generally considered hard guys who can work efficiently even under extreme conditions. "The astronauts themselves were reluctant to be trained by psychologists, " says Manzey. Only since the mid-nineties have been considered in the selection of American astronauts in addition to medical and psychological criteria such as teamwork and stress resilience. In the manned Soviet and later Russian space programs, on the other hand, from the beginning very great value was placed on the psychological care of the cosmonauts. For example, during the cosmonaut training in the Star City near Moscow, several psychologists try to find out how well they can cope with the stress during a long-term stay in space by means of tests, interviews and observation of the budding spacemen. When compiling the team, the psychologists have a veto right.

In a comprehensive training program, the cosmonauts learn to cope together with different stress situations. In addition, they practice relaxation techniques such as balanced breathing techniques, yoga and autogenic training. During the space flight mission, a group of psychological supervisors uses video footage to follow the behavior of the crew. The scientists rate the facial expression, gestures and body language of the cosmonauts. They evaluate speech patterns in the conversations of the crew members with the control center and compare them with tape recordings that were taken before the space flight under stress-free conditions. An analysis of the emphasis on individual words, the speed of speech and the pauses in speech give psychologists an idea of ​​the state of mind of the team in the space station.

The biggest psychological problem on Soviet and Russian long-haul flights over the past 20 years has been "asthenia" - mental weakness and general weakness, which includes fatigue, hypersensitivity, extreme moodiness, lack of appetite and sleep disturbances. Especially during relatively monotonous, less busy phases towards the end of a space flight, these symptoms occur again and again in individual cosmonauts.

By reorganizing the work plan and more variety, for example, by an unplanned radio contact with relatives or friends, the asthenia can often mitigate. During the earlier SALYUT missions, the crew on the ground sometimes tried to channel a depressed or irritable mood aboard the space station with a sprinkling of sweeping music. Not infrequently, the radio conversations with the ground crew for the crew on the space station as a lightning rod: aggression that have accumulated within the crew are preferably unloaded on the members of the ground crew - presumably an unconscious protective behavior of the spaceman to avoid conflicts on board.

The science cosmonaut Valeri Poljakow of the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, who spent a total of 438 days on the Mir between January 1994 and March 1995, setting a record that was unbroken, was the first long-term rider to undergo an extensive psychological test before, during and after his flight. and observation program. The tests were evaluated by the two German scientists Dietrich Manzey and Bernd Lorenz from the DLR in Hamburg.

Apart from a marked deterioration of his mental state during the adjustment phases in the first weeks after take-off, as well as after his return to Earth, the cosmonaut's mood and performance were very stable. The researchers were also unable to observe long-term consequences for their ability to perform. Her conclusion is therefore: "The mental performance and the emotional state can be kept at the same level as on earth during an extraordinarily long space flight."

On the other hand, social relationships between crew members have often been a critical issue in long-term missions. Persistently, because credible, the rumor is that at the end of the seventies the stay of several cosmonauts on the Soviet space station Salyut-6 had to be stopped prematurely, because the Team was completely divided and one of the cosmonauts finally suffered a nervous breakdown. Social relations as a critical point

Also on the Mir did not always run smoothly as it experienced the two German astronauts Thomas Reiter and Reinhold Ewald. For example, the American Norman Thagard, who visited space in the summer of 1995, felt isolated and had great difficulty coping with his Russian counterparts. Although Thagard had a sufficient Russian vocabulary, but because of his American slang the other members of the crew had to understand him.

It was particularly stressful for the American, that despite intensive preparations for the mission he was hardly able to joke in Russian with his comrades or to chat about everyday matters. There were also two missions late between American astronaut John Blaha and his Russian counterparts.

Difficulties in linguistic understanding and diverse cultural conditions could have a strong impact on the climate on board within future multinational crews on the International Space Station - especially as there will be no joint training together, which will bring many crews despite the many opposites, the Russian space stations should have welded together. In their training lessons for German astronauts, the psychologists at the DLR Department of Aerospace Psychology try to prevent possible interpersonal problems by improving "social competence". In addition, the budding astronauts practice communication techniques and increase their ability to understand foreign opinions and feelings as well as tolerance and self-criticism. Simulation experiments, in which several volunteers spend a relatively long time in a narrow chamber, reveal social behavioral patterns within small groups.

Tight daily schedules ensure that the rhythm of life corresponds as closely as possible to the daily routine on a space station. Contacts with family, friends and relatives are limited to a few minutes a week. Using a video camera, psychologists observe how the social behavior of the "astronauts" develops during their stay.

Two such studies of the European Space Agency ESA ran in 1990 at the Norwegian Underwater Technology Center NUTEC in Bergen and in 1993 at the DLR in K ln. The interior design was modeled on the Columbus Space Laboratory COF, built as an ESA contribution to the International Space Station. In the four-week Norwegian simulation, the researchers found that crises occurred mainly at about half time and at the end of their stay. The mood among the crew deteriorated significantly in these times, the team members did their job more negligent than usual.

Tensions developed mainly between particularly dominant members of the group. The communication within the crew worsened so much that a participant in the end was socially completely isolated. At meetings, the crew members finally negotiated almost only with the commander.

Norwegian researchers involved in the evaluation of the two simulation studies also warn against dangerous effects caused by a deterioration in mood and a burgeoning negligence in the final phase of a space flight. Because especially towards the end of a mission many very complicated maneuvers are to be done. The Cologne study, in which an astronaut and five other scientists were isolated for two months, was, however, much more positive: "There was neither open tension nor a fight between more dominant crew members, " says the DLR psychologist Manzey. He attributes this to a psychological choice and a special preparation. In addition, the only woman among the test persons proved to be a "peacemaker", which had a positive influence on the mood and eased tensions between her male colleagues.

Thomas Reiter experienced his long stay in weightlessness altogether positive. He could imagine working on a space station again - or in a spaceship on a two-year trip to Mars.

"The scenario would be completely different, " says Reiter. "Because on the way to Mars, there is no way back." All problems such as illness or conflict would have to be solved aboard the spaceship. The responsibility of the crew and probably also their psychological stress would be much greater than on board a near-earth space station. That's why Thomas Reiter warns: "Anyone who says recklessly" yes "to a flight to Mars, does not know what he's getting into."

=== Ralf Butscher

© science.de

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