Investigators will use four analogs which will define resilience to space conditions which will be used in selecting crew most likely to maintain human health and performance during prolonged exploration missions. This NASA Specialized Center of Research (NSCOR) aims to use the NASA Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) as one of four analog facilities (3 human, 1 animal), in which to discover markers of vulnerability to individual behavioral health risks and team social processes in space flight. The other two human analogs used in the NSCOR are the University of Pennsylvania Isolation and Confinement Analog Research Unit for Spaceflight (ICARUS), an isolated, confined, extreme environment (ICC/ICE) and the Antarctic Neumayer Station III, which is a German research station of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute.
The fourth NSCOR analog involves animal research at Harvard Boston Children’s Hospital. This laboratory will provide a rodent model of the effects of confinement that will be used to inform human neuroimaging studies. This allows the research team to safely and ethically investigate the more specific molecular, cellular, and neural circuitry changes associated with living in ICC versus enriched sensory environments for “rodent- human equivalent” time-periods matching each of the two human ICC analog sites and the 14-month ICE analog.
This study has the following specific aims:
During the first six months of the study investigators will undertake psychometric development to generate a more comprehensive scale of well-being that captures the essential characteristics of positive valence, adaptability, sociability and performance. This will be accomplished by evaluating a number of relevant questionnaires. Several well-validated surveys will be used to determine self-assessments of resilience, emotional regulation, well-being, work orientation, and social support. Throughout the period of confinement and isolation, study participants in the three analogs will complete visual analog scales (VAS) that include a stress scale, and validated brief surveys. Additionally, subjects will complete a written journal (Neumayer) or an audio/video journal (ICARUS, HERA). Content analysis of the journals will be conducted to determine changes in positive/negative valence and social processing. Investigators will also perform structured debriefs with study participants to elucidate how they perceived their experiences in the ICC/ICE environments relative to positive/negative valence and social processing.
During the HERA campaigns 32 subjects will undergo 45 day isolation studies in groups of four to assess sociability, resiliency, and psychological well-being. Subjects will complete tasks, questionnaires, and journal entries to determine changes in positive/negative valence and social processing.
In the Penn ICARUS ICC facility, 40 subjects will undergo seven-day isolation studies in groups of four in the specially designed study for confinement and isolation with frequent acute stressors—many like those that can occur during LDEMs as reported by astronauts. Subjects will be presented throughout the week in a sequence/time unknown to them. Mission control will ensure each crew undergoes a fully scripted sequence of mission stressors and non-stressors such as habitable volume, unpredictable work demands, changing environmental conditions, variable workload, work difficulty, and meaningfulness of work.
Structural and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will be performed in all participants at baseline and immediately post-mission for obtaining reliable estimates of brain structure and function, including measures of anatomic and functional connectivity and circuitry. Blood and saliva will be analyzed for biomarkers associated with stress, emotional, or immune responses once at baseline, twice during isolation and once post-isolation in the three ICC/ICE environments. On the same days as blood draws from human subjects, 24 hour ECG data will be collected to derive heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) measures as a peripheral index of emotion regulatory processes regulated via prefrontal mechanisms.
Lastly, the investigators will assess performance outcomes to determine ICC/ICE stress resilience. Participants will perform spatial navigation (radial arm maze and route learning) tests specifically targeting the hippocampal formation, striatum, and precuneus. These tasks are not only critical in terms of the requirements for long-duration exploratory missions (e.g. navigating on Mars), but they also provide precise behavioral information of the underlying circuitry that is expected to be affected by the social support system.
This study is in progress. Results will be available at a later date.