Gap BMed-106: Given increasing Earth independent long-duration missions with resulting communications delays, how do we maintain personal relations / interactions (family, friends and colleagues) and mitigate effects on astronauts’ behavioral health and performance during exploration class missions?
Last Published:  07/29/22 01:33:20 PM (Central)
Responsible Element: Human Factors and Behavioral Performance (HFBP)
Status: Open
The important role of family, friends, and colleagues on astronauts’ well-being before, during, and after spaceflight is undisputed. Future long duration exploration class missions may last five times longer than current ISS increments (~30 Months to Mars). The level of isolation and confinement, and danger will be reminiscent of early seafaring missions across the Atlantic or expeditions to the South Pole. Human beings are a highly social species and the extreme social restriction of the spaceflight environment is not a normal environment for humans. Inflight, crewmembers will be restricted to interacting with a small number of individuals (~3-5 teammates) severely limiting social novelty. Recent scientific literature reveals the negative biological effects of social isolation and consequent emotional deprivation such as increased illness and mortality. Such missions will be characterized by lack of communication capability with ground crews as well as the crewmember’s significant others and larger social network.  Future missions of 30 months with limited communications may manifest in behavioral health problems not experienced in current 6-month ISS missions. Health problems are known to be more prevalent, and life-expectancy is shorter in persons with limited social contacts. Conversely, frequent social contact, physical touch, and even voice contact only, with relatives and close friends have been shown to have a positive effect on health and longevity. This gap aims to minimize the negative impact of separation from a crewmember’s family and friends. Current methods and technologies are likely insufficient to support future long-duration autonomous crews. We need to be able to monitor the status of relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, develop a set of tools that facilitate communications in light of mission constraints (time delay, no resupply, limited power, bandwidth, mass, volume, etc.), and countermeasures to mitigate the impact of limited social interaction to behavioral health and performance.
Approach: Leverage extensive military and interagency experiences with existing programs used to reduce stress on both mission and family systems, and identify lessons-learned regarding successful post-separation re-integration. Leverage extensive program development and evaluations from DoD and their members (both for parents who were absent and their families who remained at home) during long-duration (more than one-year) military deployments to help assess the impact of parental absence on children and spouses (and extended families), and identifying most relevant, feasible, and acceptable approaches in conjunction with NASA lesson’s learned regarding efficacy of current family support systems. This approach will need to include a focus on whoever may occupy several key social roles of crewmembers during long-duration absences, such as partners of partnered crew and individuals who may occupy parenting and caregiving roles for crew with child, elder, or "sandwiched" caregiving roles (e.g., multi-generational caregiving). This focus includes the effects of perceived partner relationship quality, conceptualized here as partner support and strain, and on direct family role-health behavior linkages.  The following approach is required to determine the type of tools needed to support and facilitate communications, when during the course of a long-duration exploration class mission they are most needed, the types and channels of information for different mediums, and to determine the role of expectations among both family and crew regarding communications in the exploration mission context.
(1) Review the current behavioral psychosocial support system for ISS operations and identify changes needed to support the astronauts and their families, friends, and colleagues during a 30-month exploration class mission to Mars.
(2) Evaluate the most effective modes of communication between long duration crewmembers and their family, friends, and colleagues in providing emotional support during spaceflight (e.g., email, voicemail, and asynchronous video message).
(3) Characterize the best methods and tools to maintain contact with astronaut social support network during pre-mission training.
(4) Assess interagency successes and lessons learned from lengthy family separations and re-integration. 
(5) Determine best protocols for reintegration for their personal support network after spaceflight missions.
Target for Closure
An effective psychosocial support system that replicates what is currently available and acceptable for ISS crewmembers but is feasible for exploration class missions. Validate methods to monitor the status of relationships with family and friends, along with methods to assess communication and relationships between family, friends and crewmembers before, during, and after exploration missions. Develop a robust and efficacious set of countermeasures to facilitate and support communication between friends, family, and crewmembers during the course of exploration class missions. Individually tailor the portfolio of measures to each crewmember and their family prior to exploration missions.
(1) Validated set of tools to monitor, assess, and promote crewmember well-being relative to the status of relationships with family and friends and ability to maintain communications.
(2) Integrated suite of tools to facilitate and support communications between friends, family, and crewmembers.
(3) Method for individually tailoring tools to crewmembers and families.
(4) Recommendations, intervention and training materials, informational programs, and materials vetted, validated, and transitioned to operations.
Risk Risk of Adverse Cognitive or Behavioral Conditions and Psychiatric Disorders
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