Science Space

Could Virtual Reality Help Astronauts on Mars?

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There has been a lot of talk about virtual reality in the news recently, mainly due to the release of the Oculus Rift and other similar headsets. We’re truly entering an age where VR will become more commonplace, which is thoroughly exciting. However, it’s not just gaming geeks who are going to reap the benefits of this advancing tech… It’s astronauts too!

A Canadian Study

There has been an ongoing study by researchers in the Canadian High Arctic on the use of virtual reality in a variety of different situations. One of the most important has been equipping those living in the most remote outpost in the world – the Canadian Forces Station Alert – with virtual reality equipment. The CFSA is just over 500 miles away from the North Pole and is the northernmost inhabited outpost on the planet. Those who live and work here have become susceptible to psychological issues, feeling of loneliness, and a whole lot more. The virtual reality equipment being tested gives the residents stunning imagery of places such as Ireland, Australia, and even a little seaside village in England. The key to this study is to find out whether it can help reduce the psychological impact of loneliness and improve the mental wellbeing of those who are quite isolated from the rest of the world.

Mars Exploration

Once the study has been completed, researchers will be able to translate the data they’ve collected into something pretty useful for NASA. The ability to reduce negative psychological impacts on astronauts as they travel to places like Mars, will play a big part in successful space missions in the future. NASA are hoping to conduct their first crewed mission to the red planet at some point in the 2030s, which means that they don’t have an abundance of time to prepare. With the crew then being isolated from human civilisation for around a year, there is the worry that this can cause conflicts between team members and even cause psychological breakdowns. By using VR technology there is a good chance that they will be able to reduce the impact this could have on the astronauts. This combined with several other ongoing studies can help ensure the mental wellbeing of any crew members who want to make that long and lonely journey to Mars.

What We Can Learn

The study itself is in the second of its three years, so there is still quite a lot to learn. The CFS Alert Study is not just useful for NASA however, as it can also give scientists a good idea of how effective VR is in curing loneliness. How people react to the beautiful scenery when feeling isolated could open up a lot of interesting doors in the mental health field. This technology could also be used for those in intensive or end of life care. When the study is complete, the researchers will be able to measure what impact the virtual reality equipment had on stress and mood levels; giving them an answer as to how effective the experiment really was. All we can do now is wait, to see whether this modern technology will be making its ways to Mars by the 2030s.

It’s incredible to think that this tech – currently used for gamers predominately – could have such a profound impact on space exploration. If NASA can resolve the negative psychological effects seen in astronauts then it would open the door for longer space missions, and healthier crew members. That really is something to write home about!

About the author

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca has always been fascinated with the business and tech world, having grown up with parents in the industry. She has a real passion for science - particularly space and the unknown realms that surround the planet! Rebecca has been writing for different publications for nearly 6 years and is now an editor at Pangaea Express.