Working on the Moon

The moon, our first outpost in the frontier of space.

Think your job is tough? Can’t wait for summer vacation to “get away from it all”? Just wait, says a Rutgers University—Camden researcher. In the not-too-distant future, some jobs will challenge workers placed far, far away from it all. On the moon, in fact.

According to Chester Spell, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business—Camden, the lunar settlements of tomorrow – or, for that matter, the space stations of today – carry long-term implications for the mental health of employees working in isolation for extended periods. Depression and anxiety will reach new levels among those employees, creating mental and cardiovascular health problems as well as a sharp decline in productivity.

If it sounds far-fetched, Spell notes that existing research already finds that workers in earthbound, quasi-isolated work environments, such as remote Australian mining towns or Antarctic stations, experience higher levels of depression. Just imagine, observes Spell, what might happen if those workers were placed in the extreme isolation of a lunar environment, where interaction with their coworkers may determine their very survival. Spell presented his research about the mental health implications of working in a lunar settlement during the Rutgers Symposium on Lunar Settlements, held in New Brunswick June 3-8.

One scenario, based on recent research by the Rutgers-Camden management scholar, suggests that depression experienced by one worker will spread among the rest of the employee base.

Researchers working in remote locations like the Concordia Station in Antarctica are providing clues about the kinds of psychological stresses astronauts will need to endure on long duration lunar missions.
Credit: ESA

“The anxiety and depression of individuals working in teams relates to what co-workers think about their working conditions, above and beyond their own feelings,” explains Spell. “In other words, attitudes can spread among group members like a ‘social contagion’ and potentially lead to reduced mental health among other team members.”

While Spell’s research was not conducted in an isolated environment, he notes that under such conditions it is likely that social interaction among team members is even more critical since team members are the only source of support.

“Relatively scant attention has been paid to this issue,” says Spell, who adds that “studies to date suggest that the link between isolation and worker mental health may be a critical one for a lunar base.”

In related news, NASA recently chose seven proposals from more than 70 submissions under the Lunar Sortie Science Opportunities Program. The seven selected proposals will result in advanced development for simple, autonomous instrument packages deployed on the lunar surface by astronauts. Such "suitcase science" packages could open up a wide variety of research applications regarding the moon and the lunar environment.

Some of the funded efforts will help scientists better understand the lunar dust that creates problems for astronauts on the moon. Other studies will provide a better understanding of the moon’s interior, look for natural resources on the lunar surface and use lasers to provide precise information about the position of the moon and its features.

"The proposals we received show that the scientific community is excited about the opportunity to capitalize on the nation’s planned lunar outpost. The moon has much to teach us about itself, the history of our solar system, and even the history of the sun. In the future, more and more scientists will be able to participate in lunar research as we focus attention on Earth’s fascinating satellite," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

NASA intends to establish a human presence on the Moon by 2020.
Credit: NASA

The selected proposals are:

– "Autonomous Lunar Geophysical Experiment Package"–William Banerdt, principal investigator, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

– "Lunar Laser Transponder and Retroreflector Science"–Slava Turyshev, principal investigator, JPL.

– "Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith on the Moon using Mass Spectrometry"– Daniel Glavin, principal investigator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)

– "Seismology and Heat flow instrument package for Lunar Science and Hazards"– Patrick Taylor, principal investigator, GSFC.

– "Lunar Radiation Environment and Regolith Shielding Experiment"– Donald Hassler, principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

– "Lunar Suitcase Science: A Lunar Regolith Characterization Kit" –Jerome Johnson, principal investigator, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

– "Autonomous Lunar Dust Observer" — Christian Grund, principal investigator, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.,

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is NASA’s next orbital mission to the moon. Launch is planned in late 2008. It will orbit the moon for at least one year, providing data to accelerate opportunities for future science missions and human exploration. In the upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Participating Scientist Program, NASA will select researchers to perform detailed investigations using instruments aboard the spacecraft during its first years in lunar orbit. Proposals for both programs are due Sept. 7, 2007.

Details on NASA’s lunar research programs are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration


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