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Don't let Mars get you down!

by John Moores

January 05, 2006 -

It has been quite some time since I last posted. It was quite a busy fall as it turns out and I took some time off to go and visit with my family and friends. Peter also asked me to start up a new non-phoenix mini-project to help a research group at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. There, George "Bud" Brainard is studying the effects of long-term spaceflight on the mood of astronauts in an effort to design lighting for spacecraft.

His work has already seen some interesting results. For instance, it turns out that human beings have different mood responses depending upon the color of light that they see - many of us actually have a psychological need to live in an environment covered in hues of blue and green. This only gets worse in small closed quarters. Just like you or I might not want to spend six or more months in a small room painted a violent red, neither would a potential Mars-bound astronaut who is unlikely to have a garden under blue sky to escape to. The situation doesn't get any better once they arrive since Mars' sky bathes a would-be explorer in very un-earthlike shades of reddish brown.

Of course you might ask: "So what if astronauts get a little blue on red mars?" The short answer is that Mars (and space in general) is a dangerous place for human beings where the slightest error can be fatal. Since people who are happier tend to be more productive and more attentive, even the smallest boost to mood could mean the difference between life and death, or an astonishing new discovery and a missed detail in the landscape.

To this point, Bud has only looked at pure colors ranging from blue to red and has not considered a particular spectrum. This is where Peter and I enter into the picture. Our task is to create a setup that can replicate the full spectrum of Mars which will, in turn, be used to study the psychological response of test subjects back in Philadelphia. Based on Bud's work, it looks likely that Mars' sky will get future explorers down, however, this work will help him design a home base for them to come back to that will unconsciously remind them of home.