Date

5-25-2023

Department

School of Behavioral Sciences

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Chair

Bethany D. Mims-Beliles

Keywords

space psychology, astronaut-trained psychologist, teletherapy latency, long duration human spaceflight beyond LEO, aerospace human factors

Disciplines

Aerospace Engineering | Psychiatry and Psychology

Abstract

Space psychology (i.e., astronaut psychological counseling and support) has remained largely unchanged since the onset of long-duration low-Earth-orbit (LEO) human spaceflight missions, with teletherapy utilized as the primary means of psychotherapy delivery. However, with NASA’s plans to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, the suitability of teletherapy – as well as astronaut-trained psychologists, an alternative space psychology method suggested for human spaceflight beyond LEO – must be ascertained. The aim of this novel space psychology investigation was to identify and compare the effectiveness of three astronaut psychotherapy treatment conditions (i.e., teletherapy with a 2 second Earth to LEO latency, teletherapy with a 10 second Earth to Moon latency, and in-person astronaut trained psychologist delivered therapy with practically no latency) at reducing stress levels among astronauts/astronaut-surrogates in an analogue human spaceflight environment. 24 screened astronaut-surrogates randomly underwent each of the astronaut psychotherapy treatments, and no astronaut-surrogate received repeated treatments. Stress indicators (i.e., heart rate, blood pressure, and self-reported perceived stress questionnaire scores) were measured at multiple intervals throughout the psychotherapy treatment sessions and were analyzed via repeated measures ANOVA. By all metrics, the astronaut-trained psychologist treatment significantly outperformed both teletherapy treatments at reducing stress; and teletherapy with 10 second latency was deemed unsuitable for astronauts. Thus, astronaut-trained psychologists appear to be the most efficacious feasibly integrable space psychology solution for improving wellbeing and reducing stress among individual astronauts and astronaut crews in future long duration human spaceflight operations and missions beyond LEO (e.g., NASA’s Artemis Lunar mission). Additionally, astronaut-trained psychologists appear to be highly effective when operating in LEO as well, and therefore are also ideal for space tourism and commercial astronaut applications.

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