Social Problems in the ISS

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

By: Adham Hossam Abo El-Magd


Have you ever wondered what astronauts do? Where they live? Where they work? What does their life look like? Well, being an astronaut is a childhood dream shared by many of us. That’s why together we will know where they live, what they do to benefit us, and what are the social problems they face and how we can try solve these problems.


The International Space Station

The ISS is a place where astronauts live to perform their daily tasks and experiments to help benefit humanity. However, one may wonder, what is the International Space Station? The ISS is a large spacecraft which can be found in space . The ISS can be considered as the largest single construction project ever built by humans, as well as the most expensive as it was expected to cost $150 billion. The ISS flies in low earth orbit at around 400 km above earth. It circles the earth every 90 minutes at a speed of about 28,800 km/h. Figure 1 can help illustrate how huge the ISS is. It is permanently inhabited with minimum of three people calling it home. The ISS is considered as the most expensive item ever built.


How do astronauts benefit us?

As soon as the ISS became habitable, astronauts started to study the impact of microgravity and other space effects on different aspects of our daily life. Astronomical studies has helped modify our life in various fields, like Vaccine development research, station-generated images that helped with monitoring natural disasters and the water quality from space, education programs that inspire future scientists and countless developments in the field of medicine.


Problems that Astronauts Face

Any discovery or a new experience is great for human kind. However, that doesn’t deny the fact that there could be many challenges or problems that we face regarding this matter. Same story with life in space, as it may seem like a method that opens new doors for us, but astronauts struggle from a lot of problems. These problems can be distributed into two categories. Physical problems like: losing bone density, muscle mass reduction and nutritional deficit. Social problems that astronauts face because they are isolated from their loved ones and confined in a place away from home.


Social Problems for Astronauts

The sight of the entire Earth as it’s visible to the naked eye has had a strong effect on anyone who has seen it. Astronaut William McCool describes it as “beyond imagination”. However, for mission control, they don’t pay attention to this. They focus on the psychological and health of their astronauts working under daily pressure in a high-risk environment. These daily stresses can be life changing for many astronauts. That’s why psychological and behavioral problems are considered to be one of the biggest risks astronauts face. Moreover, there’s been significant evidence that living in space can cause such problems.

In 2007, a woman named Lisa Nowak drove 900 miles to the Orlando airport bringing a knife and a BB gun. At the airport, she was following Captain Coleen in the parking lot and she tried to pepper spray him. Nowak was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Well, one may wonder, why would such act receive this attention?


Nowak was a NASA astronaut that recently got back from an ISS mission, where she controlled robotic instruments during spacewalks. This bizarre incident called NASA’s and other space agencies attention to the effect of mental health on astronauts in space.


Efforts Done to Solve Social Problems

It’s been 11 years since the accident and NASA hasn’t forgotten about mental health. While in orbit, astronauts write personal journals at least three times a week. Researchers analyze those journals and obtain information on behavioral effects and changes. Studying results help in better preparation for future low-earth orbit missions and beyond. Nowadays, astronauts receive occasional surprise presents and treats like notes from loved ones, fresh fruits, vegetables, arranging phone calls with favorite movie stars and sports figures. keeping in contact with loved ones through emails and phone calls, as well as talking to psychologists on a regular basis. They also choose astronauts who are highly adaptable for change, have a good sense of humor, teamwork oriented, able to work under stress for long periods and people who have a future time perspective. have a positive outlook to combat their negative state of mind. “Loneliness is not so much where you are, but instead it’s your state of mind” -


Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Here are some solutions that I think can help solve social problems that astronauts face. They could use TV and video games to combat boredom. Decrease the mission duration period from a normal of six months to four months maximum thus keeping astronauts healthy with a high performance. I also believe they should have more leisure time and more time to spend with their families on the phone. Astronauts can take the “PARO Therapeutic Robot” when they go to space. It is certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s most therapeutic robot; it is sometimes used in curing isolated and depressed cases in hospitals as it reduces stress, relaxes and motivates patients towards living a better life. It’s like a private-best friend for astronauts at times of loneliness and leisure. They could also send bottles filled with earth-like scents like fresh flowers or fresh air so astronauts feel more at home.


Research Citations:

https://futurism.com/astronauts-could-use-tv-video-games-to-combat-isolation-in-space

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130813-how-to-combat-loneliness-in-space

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/mental-health-in-outer-space/

https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-the-iss-k4.html

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/benefits_benefits/

https://www.space.com/16748-international-space-station.html

http://www.parorobots.com/

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