Science fiction is rife with stories about characters going crazy because of the stress of living in space. Now that we have the International Space Station (ISS) and humans are living in space for more than a few days at a time, these kinds of possibilities are worth investigation. Not so dramatic as “space madness,” NASA is investigating something that astronauts refer to as “space fog.”
Space fog refers to the difficulty concentrating and mental fatigue that astronauts sometimes complain about. NASA is currently administering a battery of tests, ten of them, to astronauts living on the ISS. Those tests took about four years to develop, but only take about 20 minutes to complete on a computer.
Astronauts will take the tests eleven times over a six month stay at the ISS, and NASA is also gathering data from astronauts on Earth, candidates for the program, and staff from ground control. The idea is to get a solid idea of how high performance people in stressful jobs do on the tests, in order to compare them to astronauts on Earth or in space.
Working on the ISS is pretty hard, as astronauts face a lot of mentally and physically demanding work in an environment totally unlike the Earth. They have to deal with reduced gravity, as well as pockets of microgravity, high levels of carbon dioxide and radiation, and on top of all that, they don’t get a lot of sleep. Most astronauts average about six hours a night which, for most people, results in fatigue over time, since they aren’t getting enough sleep.
So it’s not surprising that astronauts suffer from space fog, but it is paramount that NASA determine what causes it, and who it affects. Some people might be more or less affected by it, and that might figure into choosing future astronauts.