Preparing for the 'Final Frontier': Lessons Learned from Earth Analogs


Preparing for the 'Final Frontier': Lessons Learned from Earth Analogs

About the Speaker

Sheryl L. Bishop, PhD is a Professor of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Schools of Nursing and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences since 1992. Since 1996, Dr. Bishop has served as lecturer, faculty and co-chair for the Master’s program and summer Space Studies Program for the departments of Space Life Science and Space and Society at the International Space University, Strasbourg, France. As an internationally recognized behavioral researcher in extreme environments, for the last 25 years Dr. Bishop has investigated human performance and group dynamics in teams in extreme, unusual environments, involving deep cavers, mountain climbers, desert survival groups, polar expeditioners, Antarctic winter-over groups and various simulations of isolated, confined environments for space, including a number of missions at remote habitats (e.g., Mars Desert Research Station, Utah, and FMARS and the Mars Project on Devon Island, Canada). She has been a grant reviewer for the European Space Agency’s Concordia Station, the Canadian Space Agency’s Life Science Directorate, the Australian Antarctic Science Division, and the Czech Science Foundation. She routinely presents her research at numerous scientific conferences, has over 60 publications (including contribution to NASA’s latest Historical Series on Psychology in Space) and over 50 scholarly presentations in both the medical and psychological fields. She is frequently sought out as a content expert by various media and has participated in several television documentaries on space and extreme environments by Discovery Channel, BBC and 60 Minutes. Dr. Bishop is a founding member, Board of Trustee member and Senior Editor for the Journal of the Society of Human Performance in Extreme Environments, Contributing Editor for Life Sciences for Habitation (formerly the Journal of Life Support and Biospheric Sciences) and Review Editor for the Journal of Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance (formerly Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine) among numerous others.



To boldly go…! But with lots of preparation, planning, testing and educated guesswork. Yet, just how DO you prepare crews for an experience that has never been encountered in the history of humankind…leaving our entire world and every other member of our species unequivocally behind as we reach for the next stepping stone in our expansion to the stars?

One approach is to try living and working in space from a nearby off-earth location. Our progress along this line has resulted in a couple of small orbiting space stations hosting 2-3 persons (hardly a ‘group’) with more ease of rescue and assistance than our Antarctic bases down below. Given the limited access to the space frontier and the investment in collective effort and resources, our ability to study individual and group functioning in the actual space environment has been, and will continue to be, severely limited. Until we can establish more permanent and larger facilities on the moon or in orbit, our knowledge of how to train groups for long duration missions will also be limited. The second approach is through analogs, i.e., locations here on Earth that are characterized by some of the critical features we expect to be a part of any long duration mission: isolation, confinement, and extreme environments with both known and unknown dangers. Studies on real-world groups situated in extreme environments here on Earth have provided us insight into many factors that impact group performance, health and well-being. Not only have we expanded our knowledge about the things we knew were problems but we’ve also discovered a number of issues that were not obvious. Thus, studying groups in terrestrial extreme environments as analogues has been a productive way to provide predictive insight into the things that we need to prepare for in long duration space missions.

Analogs come in two broad categories: artificial situations called simulations that we construct and those that real world environments provide for us. Simulations provide a great deal of control over the kinds of things that crews are experiencing which allows us to study specific conditions with a great deal of precision. Unlike simulation studies, real world environments are very chaotic but provide very real environmental threats, physical hardship, as well as true isolation and confinement – all of which have proven to be key factors in individual and group coping. To demonstrate the usefulness of the various types of analogs in use today, results from several analog studies undertaken by the author (e.g., deep caving, desert survival teams, mountain climbers, Mars Desert Research Station, Antarctic and Arctic stations) will be presented focusing on interpersonal, environmental and individual factors that affected functioning and well-being at both the physiological and psychological levels.


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Publication Date



Grand Forks, ND

Preparing for the 'Final Frontier': Lessons Learned from Earth Analogs