If you think of the words “outer space” and “Antarctica,” a feeling that may come to your mind is profound isolation. No place in the world is as sparsely populated as our frigid southerly continent, and with a group of Italian and French researchers as guinea pigs, doctors are hoping to shed some light on how humans endure their time in space.
The researchers are preparing for winter, which will begin around May at their Concordia joint research station on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. They will endure extreme isolation and will not see the sun for four full months, facing temperatures with average lows of -91*F in May. The station is one of three permanently inhabited places on Antarctica, with Russia and the United States both maintaining year-round facilities.
The European Space Agency is sending Beth Healey to conduct a number of experiments to monitor the stress levels endured by humans living on the brink. She will be looking over the crew members and examining how life survives in such dire conditions.
In addition, Healey will get the chance to study at the Halley Research Station, located at sea level, to test the differences of altitude on the behavior of the volunteers. Two tests will be done at the Halley Station while the remaining three will be done at the Concordia Joint Station.
At both stations, the crews will make daily video diaries describing their routines, state of mind, and general thoughts while performing difficult scientific work. They will also be monitored while interacting with each other.
Dr. Healey will use the videos to monitor small changes in the volunteers over the course of six months. The data will be put into a computer program that monitors minute changes in intonation and grammar usage. From this, she may be able to tease out if there is deterioration over the period of time.
There will also be tests on how our eyes adapt to prolonged exposure to darkness and artificial lighting. After her trip, Healey will work with the European Space Agency (ESA) to examine how the data can be used to improve the lives of the men and woman working long-term in the ISS and the potential damaging effects of a future trip to Mars.