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Antarctica Provides ICE to Study Behavior Effects of Extreme Weather Conditions in Astronauts

Sep 15, 2016 05:02 AM EDT
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Antarctic is proving to be a helpful resource for NASA and psychologists to study the effects of extreme weather conditions to astronauts.
(Photo : Torsten Blackwood - Pool/Getty Images)

NASA is engaging astronauts in training under extreme weather conditions to prepare them for deep space and planetary explorations such as the journey to Mars. The Antarctica provides ICE in order to study the effects of extreme weather to astronauts.

The agency has long started its preparations to start sending a manned mission to Mars from funding researchers for robots to scavenge the planet, to potential long-term habitats on Mars. The preparation includes the astronauts undergoing tests to cope with isolation, confinement and an extreme weather environment (ICE). And the best way to conduct this is by studying the effects of the extreme weather conditions of the Antarctic.

NASA with the help of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is in charge of the U.S. Antarctic Program, now run a deal to observe and analyze the effect of living in the extreme cold.

To do this, Dr. Candice Alfano and a team of experts will analyze the people who work in Antarctica for a long time. Experts say that confinement and isolation are easy to achieve and study, however, to put astronauts in extreme weather conditions such as extreme cold is a bit more complex in terms of its correlation to mood and behavior.

Scientists even call Antarctica as "White Mars" because of how isolated the place is. "You can't walk off the ice. That goes for whether you're having a health, behavioral health or a personal issue, you're not going anywhere," Lisa Spence, project manager for NASA flight analogs in the Human Research Program said in a press release. "That is very similar to spaceflight. It changes your mindset about how you are going to respond when you know you can't leave," Spence added.

Antarctica on the South Pole is said to be 98 percent covered in ice along with extreme winds and temperature that can go up to minus 49 to 26 degrees making it the coldest place on Earth. The sun hides for months at a time, for example, it disappears on April and rises again by September. This makes the place perfect for the study, as it is also considered "unsafe" for planes and ships.

Psychologists are finding patterns and trends on how the condition affects astronauts and are looking at ways to apply their findings in NASA's journey to Mars. Experts say that although the situation is indeed difficult, people found ways to adjust to extreme weather environments. "The most helpful strategy I developed was to avoid thinking about all the things I was missing out on and instead focused on the unique things in the moment that I would never get to experience again," NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch said in a statement.

The patterns of the weather condition and the astronaut's ability to adopt are analyzed and studied to create a suitable atmosphere for astronauts when they participate in future deep space missions such as the journey to Mars.


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