Virtual Space Station

Alien icescape in Antarctica
Life in isolated, confined and extreme environments like Antarctica is an important analogue for space travel. (Photo: Jim Dragisic)

On World Mental Health Day 2018, during World Space Week, we’re testing a computerised self-help tool-kit designed for Antarctic expeditioners and astronauts alike.

Virtual Reality technology can assist with training and support for the well-being and behavioural health of individuals and teams working in isolated, confined and extreme environments – like Antarctica.

VR is being trialled with expeditioners at Australia’s Mawson and Davis research stations, and will inform the development of a suite of programs designed to support astronauts on long-duration space flights – like a mission to Mars.

Virtual Space Station

Video transcript

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Dr JEFF AYTON – CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, AAD: A mission to Mars is analogous to an Antarctic mission. Australia's Antarctic stations are isolated and confined and they're an extreme environment. We are isolated for up to nine months of the year, so that is about the longest that people are isolated in a real-life situation on Earth. There's not a whole lot of evidence around how to deal with teams in Antarctica or in other extreme environments.

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PROF. JAY C. BUCKEY Jnr – PHYSICIAN, ASTRONAUT, GEISEL SCHOOL OF MEDICAL SCHOOL AT DARTMOUTH: And what VR allows you to do is to immerse people in different natural settings, so they can be in the Bavarian Alps, or they can be on a beach in Australia, and there's evidence that exposure to nature which we all like and seek out, can be restorative and that it can help people to relieve stress, it can also help perhaps improve people's attention and mental functioning.

NATE PAYNE, MECHANIC, MAWSON STATION: Best bit about the virtual reality experience is the 360 effect. I play a lot of games on my xbox and the VR is very different because you're interactive with it, you get to look around.

PROF. JAY C. BUCKEY Jnr – PHYSICIAN, ASTRONAUT, GEISEL SCHOOL OF MEDICAL SCHOOL AT DARTMOUTH: There aren't that many people who live in challenging, isolated, and confined environments like this, so the information we get from them is so valuable because it tells us about how people in this kind of environment would use a tool like this.

NATE PAYNE, MECHANIC, MAWSON STATION: When I was little I would have loved to be an astronaut, so to be in a situation where it's something similar to being in space and to be able to add to the program, it's very cool.

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