Going on a mission to Mars? Better pack your light therapy gear, say doctors

Going on a mission to Mars isn’t exactly healthy: you’re floating around weightless for minimum 18 months in a tin can, occasionally bumping into other people whom you may or may not start to hate with a passion. But that’s not all, research now shows.

In June 2010, the European Space Agency locked six volunteers (3 Russians, 2 Europeans, 1 Chinese) into a capsule for 520 days. The goal was to simulate a 250 day single trip to Mars, followed by a 30 day stay on the planet, and then back into the capsule for another 240 days (why is the trip home shorter?)

So what happens after 500 days in a tin can? Basically, you become a sloth: your muscles suffer from the zero gravity. And all the astronauts were sleeping a lot more than usual.  Unfortunately, it’s not the 8 hours-of-dreamless variety of sleep. Astronauts’ circadian rhythms were affected by the trip: they slept irregularly, and had trouble concentrating.

Lesson learned, according to dr. Mathias Basner: Mars expeditions will have to keep living on an artificial earth clock if they want to sleep well – which they need to function well. One way to do this would be to expose them to “enough light”. So better pack one of those light boxes that are used in light therapy.

via Le Figaro / Photo: Nasa

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Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).