Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Behavioral Health Management of Space Dwelling Groups: Safe Passage beyond Earth Orbit

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Behavioral Health Management of Space Dwelling Groups: Safe Passage beyond Earth Orbit

Article excerpt

Plans to pursue space expeditionary missions beyond Earth orbit have occasioned renewed concern that crew behavioral health and performance effectiveness, along with spacecraft habitability, will present major challenges to the success of spaceflight initiatives involving unprecedented increases in time and distance on interplanetary voyages. A programmed environment methodological approach that implements supportive performance and research-based behavioral technologies can contribute to meeting these challenges in furtherance of overcoming the ecologically constrained and inherently stressful circumstances of long-duration spaceflight missions by members of confined microsocieties. This paper presents the background context and rationale for applying behavior analytic methods and procedures to support individual and crew performance effectiveness and adaptation for long-duration spaceflight missions beyond Earth orbit, such as a mission to Mars.

Keywords: Programmed environment, behavioral program, confined microsocieties.


NASA's Vision for Space Exploration calls for humans to return to the moon by the end of the next decade, paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond (1). Orion is the vehicle that NASA's Constellation Program is developing to carry a new generation of explorers back to the moon and later to Mars. Orion will succeed the space shuttle as NASA's primary vehicle for human space exploration. According to a recent statement by Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society and advocate of the Mars Direct plan (Zubrin, 2000), "We could be on Mars in 10 years without a doubt" (Sullivan, 2006). And a conclusion stated within the 2004 Garriott-Griffin report (2) on a strategy for the proposed U.S. space exploration policy was as follows: "We believe that human landings on the Moon or on Mars can begin about 2020" (p. 8). In that regard, Manzey (2004) estimates that a low-energy trajectory mission to Mars will require a minimum of 800 days, to include 200 days to reach Mars, 400 days on the surface of Mars, and 200 days to return to Earth.

Despite these encouraging developments, expectations, and estimates that are based on the overwhelming technological success of previous manned space initiatives, one consideration remains almost constant: life in space will not be easy for space dwelling groups. Evidence from many international sources supports this conclusion, but two recent committee reports are especially compelling, as noted below.

First, in response to a request from NASA, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee to address astronaut health during long-duration missions. The Committee on Creating a Vision for Space Medicine During Travel Beyond Earth Orbit was charged with making recommendations regarding the infrastructure for a health system in space to deal with such problems as radiation, loss of bone mineral density, and behavioral adaptation ("behavioral health"). The full report is available in Ball and Evans (2001), and the basic findings were as follows:

1. Not enough is yet known about the risks to humans of long-duration missions, such as to Mars, or about what can effectively mitigate those risks to enable humans to travel and work safely in the environment of deep space.

2. Everything reasonable should be done to gain the necessary information before humans are sent on missions of space exploration.

Second, in 2003 a NASA-funded workshop (New Directions in Behavioral Health: A Workshop Integrating Research and Application) consisting of behavioral researchers, operational support personnel, and NASA managers convened at the University of California, Davis to promote a dialogue among these representative participants to expand understanding of psychological, interpersonal, and cultural adaptation to space. The resulting 28 reports generated by this workshop were published in 2005 in a special issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, edited by Williams and Davis (2005). …

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