Review: Psychology of Space Exploration
by Jeff Foust
|As the population of astronauts has become more diverse—scientists and pilots; women and men; Americans, Russians, and others—and stays in space have grown from days to months, psychological research has become more prominent.|
In Psychology of Space Exploration, researchers in the field of space psychology take a look at both the history of the topic as well as some contemporary research in the field. As Albert Harrison and Edna Fiedler note in the book’s introductory chapter, the application of psychology to spaceflight has been “running 20 to 30 years behind most areas of medicine”, with a long gap of in-flight experiments after John Glenn’s historic orbital flight in 1962. They don’t go into details about why that was the case, beyond “formidable organizational barriers to psychology” within NASA, apparently as the agency focused more on the challenges of getting men into space and back safely, and less on behavioral issues while in space.
As the population of astronauts has become more diverse—scientists and pilots; women and men; Americans, Russians, and others—and stays in space have grown from days to months, psychological research has become more prominent. Chapters of Psychology of Space Exploration examine research on some of those areas, including the potential for cultural clashes among multinational crews and the effect of gender on crew cohesion. One chapter examines an interesting experiment: putting six ordinary people into a simulated spacecraft for a two-day orbital flight to see how well space tourists might get along in close quarters. (The answer: apparently so well that the “tourists” exchanged phone numbers and addresses after their “flights” and attended a later reunion.)
The book (an electronic version of which is freely available from NASA) does get into considerable detail about some research, and there’s some jargon particular to the behavioral sciences. For example, one chapter title asks, “Is Earth Observation a Salutogenic Experience?” You’ll need to know that “salutogenic” refers to an increase in well-being. (The answer to that chapter’s question, by the way, is yes.) For those interested in issues of how humans get along with each other in space—a topic of increasing importance given plans for greater commercial human spaceflight and government plans for long-duration exploration missions—Psychology of Space Exploration offers an overview of the history of, and current state of research in, this field.