This Documentary Explores The Loneliness Of A Mars Mission

In a new documentary, NASA psychologists try to find solutions for the mental health challenges of a three-year trip to Mars.

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NASA is preparing to send humans to Mars. Although the launch date has been pushed back over the years, the agency says it wants to get there in the 2030s. And it has a lot on its to-do list. NASA needs to build new rockets, new habitable living spaces, new spacesuits, and new radiation shielding, just to name a few items.

But what if the one of the biggest challenges of these missions is not the engineering, but the mental health of the astronauts? Can all of the crew members get along with each other and stay alive over the course of three years in tight quarters and unforgiving environments? How will they cope with being separated from their families and friends for so long? And what lessons can they learn from astronauts who’ve lived on the International Space Station—and from our collective experience of isolation during the pandemic?

A new documentary that came out on March 8 explores all these questions and more. It’s called “The Longest Goodbye,” and it dives into NASA’s Human Factors program, which includes a group of psychologists who are trying to figure out the best way to preserve astronauts’ mental health on a long and demanding mission.

Host D. Peterschmidt spoke to the film’s director, Ido Mizrahy, and one of its featured astronauts, Dr. Cady Coleman, about how NASA is thinking about tackling loneliness in space and what we can learn from astronauts who’ve already lived on the space station.

Plus, a listener shares his experience about performing a drumroll for the solar eclipse.

Universe of Art is hosted and produced by D. Peterschmidt, who also wrote the music. Our show art was illustrated by Abelle Hayford. Support for Science Friday’s science and arts coverage comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

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Meet the Writer

About D. Peterschmidt

D. Peterschmidt is a producer, host of the podcast Universe of Art, and composes music for Science Friday’s podcasts. Their D&D character is a clumsy bard named Chip Chap Chopman.

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