For 105 days, 4 Russians and 2 Europeans holed up in isolation in Moscow, to see if they could survive a mission to Mars without killing one another in frustration, while American scientists watched. Tomorrow, they'll be freed.
The experiment was designed to see if the crew could conduct experiments and deal with stressful situations they might experience, including emergencies and communication delays. No murderous computers were involved. The American scientists running the experiment forced their counterparts to endure sleep deprivation, monitored their interactions with Mission Control, and then looked at how stress and fatigue impacted the performance of their duties.
The scientists running the experiment consider it a great opportunity. Said project leader Charles A. Czeislder, who worked on the project,
We've done experiments in the sleep lab to test the efficacy of lighting interventions, but that is a highly controlled environment. By transitioning studies into an operational environment, like the 105-Day Mission, we have the opportunity to learn how to best deploy interventions in a realistic mission setting. This analog is a great intermediate step before implementation on an actual spaceflight.
He and colleagues are hoping that the experiment will allow them not only to help astronauts survive long flights in cramped quarters, but provide some data to help other sleep-derived Earthbound professionals with stressful jobs to stay awake and function better.
In the sleep deprivation experiment, scientists expect to prove that bathing sleep-deprived workers in green light rather than red suppresses the body's production of melatonin, allowing them to work more effectively during overnight shifts. In the stress impact experiment, scientists used facial recognition-style software during videotaped cognitive tests, to have the computer look for signs of stress or negative emotions, in an effort to validate the software for use during real missions. Meanwhile, they went through tests that measured their attentiveness, response times and impulsiveness. In the final experiment, the crew experimented with differing levels of autonomy with mission control to track whether lots of interaction with management was more or less helpful to individual relationships and job performance. Initial results suggest that they didn't appreciated being nagged any more than the rest of us.
105-Day Mars Simulation: U.S. Studies Focus On Improving Work Performance [National Space Biomedical Research Institute ]