A joint effort by the Russian Space Institute and the European Space Agency to simulate the lonely and potentially brutish reality of extended space travel to Mars began last Thursday as six researchers were sealed inside a windowless cylindrical chamber, which will be their home for the next year and a half. The all-male crew consists of three Russians, a Frenchman, a Chinaman and an Italian-Colombian, who will conduct regular space operations including scientific experiments and facility maintenance. The researchers’ only link to the outside world is via an Internet connection to mission control with regular disruptions and a 20-minute delay.
These men must truly have “the right stuff” to consider such a mission. Try to imagine, if you will, what it would be like to be trapped in a small space with five other guys for over 500 days. The smell alone could be enough to deter most people. I would imagine that by the end of the mission, the stench in that place would be similar to the Men’s room after the Super Bowl—foul. Still, the smell of six men may be the least of their problems, if not a catalyst for other, more potentially dangerous and psychotic episodes. According to Harris (1989; citing Kanas, 1987) with lengthy isolation come many potential interpersonal dangers including fits of rage, crew-members vying for dominance, deviance and a deterioration of group cohesion. To deal with these potential problems, they better have true grit, a strong desire not to kill each other, and lots of potpourri and Lysol to cover that not-so-fresh odor.