A Team of Chinese Students Will Be Isolated for Six Months to Test if Lunar Colonists Will Go Crazy

Friday, 14 July 2017 - 2:22PM
Space
Friday, 14 July 2017 - 2:22PM
A Team of Chinese Students Will Be Isolated for Six Months to Test if Lunar Colonists Will Go Crazy
Image credit: NASA

Scientists have known for a while that the isolation astronauts face in space can mess with their minds. As we start to look toward colonizing other planets, one question becomes particularly important: will we all totally lose our minds in future long-term space missions? In China, four people volunteered to be sealed into a tiny lab together for six and a half months to find out. 

At Yuegong-1, also known as the Lunar Palace, four students from Beihang, China's foremost aeronautics and astronautics University, voluntarily stepped into a sealed 1,720-square-foot laboratory for six and a half months. According to state-run news from China, the lab doesn't just hold scientific equipment; it has a living space, two plant cultivation areas, four beds (or, more specifically, bed pods), a bathroom, waste-treatment equipment, and an area designated for raising animals. It might seem like a short and strange list of amenities to last a group so long, but the lab is designed to be self-sustaining in addition to mimicking what a space station on the Moon might look like.


A peek into the "lunar lab." Image Credit: The Standard

Before this study, a group lived for 60 days (not even ⅓ of the time this group will be in the lab for) in the lab and one member, Liu Hui told Reuters that at the end of the day she sometimes "felt a bit low." This might be an indication that six and a half months in the lab might not be so easy. One of the biggest factors that the research team is looking to study in this experiment is the absence of sunlight. The team will not be completely isolated, since they have one another, but because this is mimicking a lunar station, there will not be sunlight inside the facility. Understanding just how crazy this type of environment could make people, Liu Hong, a professor at Beihang and a leader at the Lunar Palace, stated: "If you spend a long time in this type of environment it can create some psychological problems."


So, if this experiment goes to completion and Hong is right, what does this mean for the future of space exploration? While we might be able to figure out a way to create human colonies on the Moon, on Mars, or even on Saturn's largest Moon, Titan, what would happen to the mental health of these astronauts? Perhaps the way that these labs are designed could be altered to somehow mitigate these psychological effects, whether it's with sun lamps indoors or playing music, like the NASA scientist who was kept isolated during his cancer treatment.
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