Emerging Need for BHP Support

Until the advent of space stations, missions lasted from hours to a couple of weeks. A space station, designed to orbit the earth for an extended period, afforded the opportunity for longer-duration missions. As space station crew members began living and working in the ICE environment of space for weeks and then months, this produced greater stressors on the human body, both physical and psychological.

The first 6-month space station mission occurred on Salyut 6 in 1980. Coinciding with missions of increasing duration, signs of stress among cosmonauts were noted. The Russian space agency responded by creating a psychological support program dedicated to addressing this concern. NASA’s ВНР group was created later in the same decade when the Shuttle-Mir missions commenced. The in-flight psychological support activities of the United States are modeled after those first pioneered by the Russian system (Kanas, 1991) and included surprise presents and favorite foods sent up on resupply vehicles; two-way communication with family and friends on the ground via audio-video links, e-mail, ham radio; and on-board recreational software and videos for leisure time use.

Multiple factors influence the degree of stress felt by crews in ICE environments. For those in space, the habitable volume of the station, station amenities, crew size, crew interpersonal dynamics, and the change in the mission from primarily exploration to that of science all contribute to the amount of stress a crew perceives (Kanas & Manzey, 2008). Arguably, the single greatest contributor to psychological stress, however, is mission duration. As the mission length increased from 2 weeks on the space shuttle orbiter to months on Mir and the ISS, the mindset of the crew and those on the ground supporting the crew likewise had to shift from viewing the mission as a sprint to a marathon. Early astronauts and cosmonauts were more likely able to handle space mission-related stress through compartmentalization, usually an effective method of coping for the short-term. As missions grew' longer, compartmentalizing stressors is less effective and no longer adequate if it is the primary coping mechanism used. Astronauts and cosmonauts required additional methods of effectively addressing the psychosocial stressors of an extended period living and working in space. In response, NASA ВНР developed a more robust repertoire of countermeasures supporting astronauts and their families. Over time, the tools and countermeasures developed and delivered by ВНР have included astronaut and spouse briefings on expectations of long-duration missions, video-conferencing in the astronaut’s home for weekly Private Family Conferences, Internet Protocol phone on the ISS to allow the astronaut to easily make calls to Earth, first DVD movies and later digitized videos uploaded to the ISS and stored for later use.

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