Can virtual reality help keep astronauts sane in space?
Nature is good for us. Scientists are still working out the technical details, but so far evidence indicates that seeing sunlight, trees, and other green stuff helps your mental health. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of forests in space, and thats bad for the future astronauts we'll send to Mars and back.
They'll spend about two years cooped up in a spacecraft with no option to stroll through a meadow or feel the sunshine on their skin, and that could wear on their psychological states.
Former astronaut Jay Buckey wants to see if virtual reality can help. The Dartmouth physician and his team have sent Oculus Rift headsets deep into the Arctic to test whether exposure to nature through virtual reality can help improve mood and stress levels.
When it comes to deep space exploration, "The more tools you can give people to maintain a good psychological state, the more successful the mission is likely to be," Buckey tells Popular Science.
His team has sent the virtual reality headsets to a military station in Alert, Canada. Located 500 miles from the North Pole, Canadian Forces Station Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.
"People who live in this Alert station, they do well but it's dark all the time and it's very cold outside," says Buckey. "So it's a small group of people living in a confined space all the time. It's not like you can go out for a walk in the woods."
If the tech works, the team hopes to eventually test virtual green spaces on the International Space Station as well.
Buckey suggests the simulations could also provide useful to the elderly or people who are limited in mobility…and maybe even for the rest of us who can't seem to get away from the computer long enough to step into nature.