space madness and you
Boredom and small spaces for an extended period of time wreak havoc on the human psyche. That's going to be a huge problem on extended missions into deep space.
Maybe you remember the cartoon classic Ren & Stimpy, a twisted and often disturbing take on Tex Avery cartoons by Canadian animator Jon Kricfalusi. Throughout the show, Ren spends a lot of time having psychotic breakdowns, one of which happens when he’s trapped on a spaceship with Stimpy and his boredom and homesickness drive him insane. Although it’s probably not intended as such, that episode actually illustrated a real problem astronauts might face on extended missions into deep space where they would be cut off from their home world. And if they’re sent on solo missions for months or years at a time, things could get really ugly…
It’s one thing to take part in an isolation experiment while you’re on Earth and have the option of just ending your confinement when you’ve had enough. But on a hostile alien world with different gravity, toxic air and dangerous air pressures which force you to live in a protective bubble millions of miles from the rest of humanity, things are very different. You can’t push a button and be out in a few hours. And that’s when you could start going stir crazy without a place to stretch your legs a bit, entertain yourself and get some of the casual social interaction we evolved to need.
Forget about cramming a small crew into a spaceship with the square footage of a one bedroom apartment and simply sending them off to Mars for a year and a half. From a psychological standpoint it’s much more complicated than that. Sure, the astronauts will be willing to give up plenty of things for the chance to visit another planet and live on its surface but as we all know, feelings of novelty tend to wear off after a relatively short while. After a few weeks of roaming Mars there will still be months to go and the exciting trip might suddenly feel like being marooned.
Just launching people into deep space without making any provisions for their mental state and saying “well they’re tough, they’re astronauts, that’s what they trained for” seems pretty cruel, especially since the majority of the people who say that will never make the same trip for themselves and stay firmly planted on Earth with all the comforts they know and love. Yes, of course astronauts are tough. But they’re also human and we should treat them with the proper respect and concern, especially when we start sending them to other planets for months and years at a time.