Tech UPTechnologyHow would living on the Moon affect our mental...

How would living on the Moon affect our mental health?


A prolonged stay on the Moon or an interplanetary trip to Mars or beyond has many risks . The most striking and the ones that receive the most attention are the physical risks, those derived, for example, from a long stay in microgravity or continuous exposure to cosmic radiation . And it is not for less, these risks are really serious. During the two decades of permanent occupation of the International Space Station , the effect of prolonged weightlessness on the human body has been investigated, reaching the conclusion that this results in a significant loss of muscle and bone . In fact, a 6-month stay in space can lead to the same loss of bone mass that we would experience on Earth for a decade , as a result of our natural aging.

In addition, continued exposure to cosmic radiation can increase the chances of developing cancer , since this radiation, from which the Earth’s magnetic field normally protects us , can affect the DNA of our cells. But this is not the only thing that can endanger the integrity of the astronauts. Long periods in isolation (partial or complete) can seriously affect the mental health of any person. Those who visit the International Special Station for long periods of time (with stays of several months and even up to a year uninterrupted on some occasions) do not seem to be affected by this problem too much , because in addition to having their fellow missionaries, they are in constant contact with the team on the mainland and have some communication with their families and loved ones. However, in more remote environments , such as the surface of Mars , communication will be much more restricted and this constant communication will not be as feasible.

On the one hand, the mere physical separation between the two planets is already a barrier to communication, since any message that is sent or received beforehand must travel for several minutes through the vacuum of space at the speed of light. Therefore, a real-time conversation or a simple video call are impossible . In addition, the infrastructure needed to send large amounts of information will be much more expensive to build on Mars, so at first they may be limited to sending simple text messages .

This is why studying how these experiences of extreme isolation can affect our brain is so important. That is what a collaboration is doing between the University of Surrey , the University of Milan-Bicocca and the company SAGA Space Architects , who have built a recreation of a lunar habitat in the northern region of Greenland to study the effects of these experiences on health. human mind.

This research was part of the LUNARK project that aimed to study how to build self-sufficient habitats on the Moon and how to design them to guarantee a successful mission on them. To do this, two architects from SAGA, Aristotelis and Sørensen, built a habitat that they occupied from September 2020 and for 61 days continuously, with contact with the outside world limited to a daily message of up to 160 characters to the control center in Denmark.

The cabin they occupied was specially designed for this mission and was prepared to withstand inclement weather and even the possible visit of polar bears, a visit that ended up taking place and that did not cause any setbacks for the mission. To keep track of their evolution, the research team monitored how the duo perceived the passage of time , the positive and negative emotions they felt throughout the day, the levels of satisfaction of their basic psychological needs and even if they developed any tendency to aggressiveness.

Social isolation has been used throughout history as a form of torture and is still used today as a punishment in some prisons . It is not surprising, therefore, the serious effects it can have on our mental health . Given the increasing pace of development in the technology that makes space exploration possible, it is a crucial time to study this other side of space exploration.

Among other things, the research showed that the desire for social contact on the part of the two architects increased with the passage of the mission , while their feelings of alienation, depression, helplessness or unworthiness did not seem to increase . Talking about personal matters or enjoying leisure time decreased the prevalence of these negative feelings but increased their desire for social contact.

The rapid pace of development of private industry, NASA’s plans to return to the Moon this decade and reach Mars in the next, and the disruption of powers such as China or India in the new space race will make access to space grow in the coming decades. That is why it is so important to do these studies now, before it is too late.


Paolo Riva et al, 2022, Social isolation in space: An investigation of LUNARK, the first human mission in an Arctic Moon analog habitat. Acta Astronautica, DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2022.03.007

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