Behavioral Issues Associated With Isolation and Confinement: Lessons Learned From Space Analog Experiences


Behavioral Issues Associated With Isolation and Confinement: Lessons Learned From Space Analog Experiences


Jack Stuster

About the Speaker

Jack Stuster, PhD, CPE is a cultural anthropologist and Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE #0093), specializing in the measurement and enhancement of human performance in extreme environments. He has analyzed the work performed by telecommunications technicians, military specialists, and astronauts. His research for NASA began in 1982 with a systems analysis of space shuttle refurbishing procedures and has been followed by studies of conditions that are analogous to space missions, which led to recommendations to facilitate human performance on the International Space Station, space craft, and at planetary facilities. Dr. Stuster’s research concerning Antarctic winter-over experiences, expeditions, and voyages of discovery, is documented in Bold Endeavors: Lessons From Polar and Space Exploration. Dr. Stuster also contributed to the development of a training program for the Expedition Corps, astronauts selected for long duration space missions, and since 2003 has conducted content analyses of confidential journals maintained for this purpose by astronauts during their six-month tours of duty onboard the ISS. Dr. Stuster recently began studies to evaluate methods for unobtrusively monitoring crew behavioral health and to identify the skills and abilities necessary for an expedition to Mars.



The history of exploration contains many examples of serious psychological problems in response to the isolation, confinement, and other stressors of expedition life. Accounts of Adolphus Greely's disastrous Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, from which only six of 25 returned in 1884, affected all subsequent polar explorers. The stories of insanity and cannibalism among the Greely party were known by the members of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition 13 years later when they became trapped in the ice and experienced a deep depression that killed one man and drove another to bizarre acts of psychosis. Roald Amundsen, who performed his apprenticeship as an explorer on that expedition, wrote later that, insanity and disease stalked the decks of the Belgica that winter.Similarly, the radio operator on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1912 became psychotic and his ranting threatened to drive other members of the group insane, confined as they were to a small hut in the most inhospitable environment on Earth. That experience led Douglas Mawson to recommend to all future explorers that, In no department can a leader spend time more profitably than in the selection of men who are to accomplish the work. It was in response to these and other experiences that Richard Byrd reportedly included only two coffins, but 12 straightjackets among his supplies during two expeditions to Antarctica in the 1930s. The relevance of living and working at remote duty stations to what might be expected of space travel has been recognized since Werner von Braun looked to Antarctic experiences when identifying possible sources of risk for his Mars Project in 1954. Cosmonaut Valery Ryumin echoed von Braun's concerns when he wrote of his Soyuz space station experience in 1980, All the conditions necessary for murder are met if you shut two men in a cabin measuring 18 feet by 20 and leave them together for two months.

All fields of science and serious inquiry rely on metaphor when access to actual conditions is impossible. Engineers and architects build scale models of buildings, bridges, and aircraft and then subject them to tests of strength or aerodynamics. Medical researchers explore new therapies using what are called animal models, a euphemism for rats, pigs, and other contributors to increased human longevity. Economists create mathematical models to test hypotheses about commerce and finance. And, behavioral scientists look to analogous conditions when it is impractical, impossible, or unethical to subject humans to extreme stress for long durations. For this reason, it has been appropriate to study conditions on Earth characterized by varying degrees of isolation and confinement to extrapolate lessons for the designs of space craft and space habitats. Dr. Jack Stuster will summarize his space analog research and present recent results from the Journals Flight Experiment, the longest-running study to be conducted on the International Space Station.


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Grand Forks, ND

Behavioral Issues Associated With Isolation and Confinement: Lessons Learned From Space Analog Experiences