(APTN/CBS Newspath) – A team of researchers has been simulating life on the Moon to understand the impact of the pandemic. A team of five spent two weeks cut off from the world at a simulated space base in Poland. The goal of the research is to better understand the effects of quarantines and help find ways to get through periods of isolation.
“We are assessing our crew psychologically as they were like living and working on the Moon. So all those psychology of the group or studies or isolation studies when it comes to psychology is focused on the Moon. But neurological changes of being in closed borders, and on the very small area, without windows, it’s very close to what we experience as people during the pandemic, quarantine, or lockdowns. So this is what we have in mind when we tell this is a pandemic isolation,” says Leszek Orzechowski, architect and base manager of the “Lunares” space research habitat.
The crew found life behind firmly closed doors a challenge.
“No matter what happens with our relatives or outside world, we cannot react to it because we are locked. Like all the people who are in isolation, they cannot leave. We experienced the same, so it was pretty hard, at this point, but thanks to our great commander and the magnificent crew that I was here with, it was easier to go through it not alone,” says Barbara Gornwald, a stomatologist from Pomeranian Medical University.
The researchers were locked inside Europe’s unique Lunares research Base in Pila, western Poland, a specialized facility for simulating manned space missions on the Moon and Mars.
It is totally isolated from the outside world, includes modules for daily activities, a lab, and 250 square meters (2,700 square feet) of space behind an airlock, for walks on a simulated planetary surface. The base was built in 2017 by Space is More, a Polish company specializing in space technology.
The spacewalk area is inside a former anti-nuclear hangar that during the Communist era housed Su-22 bombers. The base allows for the constant monitoring of the inhabitants’ health and behavior.
Gornwald says the team has had “brain scans and saliva checks and also a lot of psychological assessment” to assess the impact of isolation on their physical and mental health. The crew was able to contact family and friends by text and email but had no access to video calls.
“Before and after the mission our crews are going through MRIs, so we are trying to determine what are changes in their hippocampus, so that part of the brain that is partially responsible for spatial awareness and how that changes throughout those two weeks of isolation without any indication what is outside,” says Orzechowski.
The mission ended on 30 January. The results of their experiments have not been released yet, but Orzechowski already has advice for those trying to navigate isolation during the pandemic.
“The boredom could be an issue, but that’s why the schedule is a key to overcome it, yes. So if you’re isolated, if you are suffering from quarantine, make a schedule. And if you put in that schedule things that you have to do and time for yourself, your free time, please plan it exactly as you’ve done it when you weren’t isolated,” he says.
The research was conducted under the guidance of the Polish Ministry of Health and the Silesian University of Technology. Participants and researchers were drawn from various institutions, including those outside Poland who were in remote contact with the crew.