If you thought telephone therapy was going too far from the human touch, wait until you read this: Astronauts will receive computerized therapy during space flights under a new NASA project, called the Virtual Space Station, which gets underway next month with some terrestrial-bound clinical trials on civilians in Boston.
The cost of the program is just under two-million dollars.
Space flight can be stressful, isolating, and depressing. The job is dangerous and comes with tremendous pressure. Colleagues may spend days, weeks, or even months living in extremely close quarters without a break, and are separated from friends and family for extended periods. And the normal comforts and coping skills of home–a delicious meal, a walk in the sunshine, a long bath, or a night on the town, are unavailable.
The new project is sponsored by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and will provide a recorded video therapist to provide the popular therapy called “problem-solving treatment,” helping astronauts identify depression, its causes, and possible solutions they can implement while in space flight, before symptoms grow too intense and interfere with their mission. Then astronauts can type in a description of their problems and feelings and the video therapist responds. Astronauts can also practice conflict resolution with role-playing, and will have access to virtual psychology textbooks.
Twenty-nine current and former astronauts have been consulted for the project, but it has great potential for many populations, such as scientists or soldiers at remote outposts, or anyone who has physical or emotional difficulty getting to appointments in person.
The program comes in response partly to past experiences. In 1985, a mission on Russia’s Salyut 7 space had to aborted when the commander become depressed and lethargic. Three years earlier, another Salyut mission was almost abandoned due to conflicts between two astronauts.
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