Scientists at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne are using the Psychology Laboratory to investigate how extreme working conditions (for example isolation and stress) can affect the psyche and performance of those affected, and are developing preventative methods that also have applications in medicine.
ESA astronauts specifically use the soundproofed section of the module. During what is known as the direct return, the phase following the return of the European astronauts from the ISS, the astronauts and mission crew stay in this module. With its equipment and location, this offers both a living area and control centre that provides the perfect conditions for conducting scientific and medical examinations on the astronauts.
Working under extreme conditions
How do isolation and confinement affect the psyche and performance of people who have to work under such conditions for weeks or months? Such workers include employees on remote research stations, labourers on oil platforms or astronauts in space. The researchers in Cologne are focusing on answering these questions. The unique, high-tech laboratory is part of the :envihab medical research facility, with Module 5 intended for examinations of up to six test participants under standardised, complex conditions.
Living in extremely confined spaces with just a few people, having no contact with the outside world and experiencing no stimuli due to natural light, sounds and smells are all stress factors to which people on Earth may be exposed in certain circumstances, for instance if suffering from diseases that require isolation or long-term bed rest.
Simulating stress and immobility
In the Psychology Laboratory, the test subjects are exposed to precisely this simulated situation – immobility, isolation and stress – while monitored by the researchers. The laboratory has a special soundproofed area of around 260 square metres and allows for special isolation conditions at specific room temperature and air humidity settings. The complex investigations grant the scientists concrete insights into how homesickness and social stress, for instance, affect performance, the ability to work, interaction among the team, and, most importantly, which preventative measures are possible.