Here there be dragons
Greetings all, and welcome to Mission Day (MD) 15! As of today, I’ve now gone past the time I spent in isolation in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) at Johnson Space Center back in April.
It sure doesn’t feel that way. It still feels like we just moved in. Perhaps it’s because of differences between the two projects. HERA is much more strictly regimented. Everything in HERA, except for a few personal items, is pre-packed and pre-organized into the habitat prior to the mission. We had no personal opportunistic research to set up. We entered the habitat in the evening, had a couple of hours for personal phone calls to the folks at home, and then woke up and hit the ground running the next day. Minute-by-minute daily routines were prepared and presented to us in Playbook, an iPad-based scheduling program that will be used on the ISS in the not-so-distant future.
In contrast, life in HI-SEAS is a bit more free-form. We’ve spent the first couple of weeks organizing our habitat, taking inventory, preparing orders for our first resupply, getting acquainted with the psychological research tasks we’ll be performing, and setting up our own personal research projects. Although we have a few scheduled psychological research activities we have to perform at certain times, our daily schedule is more open to our own discretion, and it’s taken a couple of weeks for us to fall into a comfortable daily routine.
HERA, with its strict regimen, was able to fit an entire mission into a couple of weeks. Now that we have our routine, it feels like our HI-SEAS mission has just begun.
Back in April in HERA, I noticed a few things about my own state of mind. Though I was confined to a space no larger than a couple of small college dorm rooms stacked on top of each other, I never felt any sense of claustrophobia; surprisingly, the space seemed large enough for the four of us. I had heard stories of astronauts in space missing the sensations of nature and the outdoors, and had taken measures to bring those sensations along with me: picture books of airplanes flying through the sky, with majestic vistas beyond, and (inspired by Matthew McConaughey’s character in Interstellar) recordings of waves crashing onto a beach. Strangely, I found I didn’t need them; I was very comfortable in my mechanical plastic-and-metal cocoon.
Just like HERA, HI-SEAS feels large enough. It doesn’t hurt that I have several times more space to move around in, a couple of windows and external cameras to see out of, and the occasional EVA to get out and stretch my legs. I have e-mail, an electronic dropbox, and this blog, which I can use to communicate with home anytime I wish (albeit with a 20-minute delay). This is a big change from the near-total communications blackout I experienced in HERA. For a second time, though confined with limited electrical power, water, and resources, I have yet to feel any sense of claustrophobia or discomfort.
Will that feeling change? Perhaps. Twelve months is a much, much longer time to be stuck in isolation than two weeks. But that’s one of the reasons I’m here – just as much as NASA is studying my performance and ability to cope, I’m studying myself just as intently. Although we’re not in uncharted territory for NASA yet – that’ll come eight-and-a-half months from now – as of right now, I’ve stepped beyond the edges of my own personal psychological map, to explore further and see what lies beyond.