National Space Biomedical Research Institute is sending a team of ‘aquanauts’ to Aquarius, “the world’s only underwater research habitat”, 60 feet below the surface around Key Largo, Florida, in order to investigate the efficacy of stress, fatique, and other psychological tests when performed by isolated individuals and teams, like those who go to space.
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“The crew takes a three-minute test that measures vigilance, attention and psychomotor speed. We’ve learned from laboratory experiments that the test is sensitive to fatigue and other factors that impact a person’s ability to pay attention to a task and respond quickly,” Dinges said [David F. Dinges, Ph.D., team leader of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute’s Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors Team -ed]. “The test is taken at least four times a day – on waking, before and after simulated moon walks, dives and habitat experiments, and before bed.”
The Psychomotor Vigilance Test, or PVT, was developed through Dinges’ work with NSBRI, NASA, the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The user watches for a signal and responds when it appears, allowing the measurement of reaction times.
The crew also wears a wristwatch-sized device, called an Actiwatch®, that measures the sleep and wake cycle. The aquanauts provide saliva at various times each day including when they awake, before and after performing experiments and simulated moon walks, and before going to bed.
“With the saliva samples, we measure cortisol, a hormone that provides information on their stress levels,” Dinges said. “Cortisol is normally high in the morning; it’s a means of getting you going each day. If we see elevated cortisol after performing a high-level task, it would indicate some type of stress occurred during the activity.”
The crew fills out brief questionnaires about how hard they are working, so researchers can get a sense of their physical and mental workload. Another questionnaire focuses on mood and interpersonal interactions between the crew as well as with mission control personnel.