In a film about a candidate chosen to colonize Mars, Seat 25 captures the emotional effects that this decision has on their life and relationships. I especially like the emotional rather than the scientific side to the story because it talks about the basis of human beings in a new and unimaginable situation. But this is only the emotions BEFORE the journey.

In a tough and hostile environment like Mars, survival comes first, but how much of that survival is based on the mental wellbeing of these astronauts? What’s interesting about the Mars One project is that it is not only recruiting scientists who may be more interested in the scientific exploration aspect of the mission but also recruiting artists and others who are not necessarily able to control their emotions as logically. Dr. Norbert Kraft and Raye Kass compares the selection model of Mars One to Ernest Shackleton’s method of team building for an Antarctic exploration.

In the call out of 2013, Mars One only stated that candidates must be resilient, adaptable, curious, trusting and creative. I think these traits are quite vague, naive and unmeasurable. In their their FAQ page, psychological feasibility is briefly mentioned.

So I did a bit more research into what psychologists think of the emotional side of this mission.

In an article on The Guardian, research shows the 4 major challenges of space missions from a psychological point of view: social isolation, confinement, loss of privacy, and lack of mental health services.

“I think these will be bigger challenges than technology challenges,” said Jason Kring, a researcher at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida who studies how humans perform in extreme environments in an article for National Geographic in 2013.

On privacy

Mars One is intended to be broadcasted to people Earth in a reality show type of format. Much like, Big Brother, you know that thousands of people are watching you at all times. Surveillance can cause stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

On isolation

Jane Poynter; co-founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation, the company developing life-support systems for Mars One, said, “Isolation was the hardest part of living in Biosphere 2”, a self-contained habitat meant to simulate Earth’s various environments in the Arizona desert.

Decades of research shows that prolonged social isolation in astronauts can lead to depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, boredom and emotional instability.

Professor Nick Kanas, a NASA-funded expert in the psychological effects of space exploration, says that when Earth is out of view for an extended time, “crew member psychology may result in increased feelings of isolation, homesickness, dysphoria, or even suicidal or psychotic thinking.”

The Guardian 2013

The Mars One crew will only be able to get instantaneous feedback from the 3 other people who’ve joined them on the first journey in a 50 sq m space. Confinement causes similar symptoms to isolation.

In 2013, The Verge published an article on NASA’s efforts on mental health in space. Pock-sized psychosocial badges will be attached to the crew to monitor blood pressure and heart rate.


A design illustrating the sensor’s design and function. (Credit: Michigan State University)

Other than sensors, NASA is also sponsoring research on computerized therapists.

Looks like the lack of consideration on mental health for Mars One raised a lot of skepticism. In addition, the lack of modern medicine, sexual relationships, pregnancy, raising children, ageing and death are all natural human needs only available on Earth at the moment.