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Breakdown Forces New Look At Mars Mission Sexuality 528

Posted by Zonk
from the acting-like-adults-at-nasa dept.
FloatsomNJetsom writes "Popular Mechanics has up an interesting story, discussing what the long-term implications of the Lisa Nowak incident could mean for Mars Mission crew decisions: With a 30-month roundtrip, that isn't the sort of thing you'd want to happen in space. Scientists have been warning about the problems of sex on long-term spaceflight, and experts are divided as to whether you want a crew of older married couples, or asexual unitard-wearing eunuchs. The point the article makes specifically is that NASA's current archetype of highly-driven, task-oriented people might be precisely the wrong type for a Mars expedition. In addition scientists may use genomics or even functional MRI in screening astronauts, in addition to facial-recognition computers to monitor mental health during the mission." Maybe observers could just deploy the brain scanner to keep track of them?
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Breakdown Forces New Look At Mars Mission Sexuality

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  • Submariners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zebadias (861722) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:00AM (#17947956)
    They only need to look as far as the crew on a submarine to see what makeup can last a year. AFIK they are all male crew.
  • Spaceballs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:01AM (#17947960) Homepage Journal
    No, what we want is pansexual swingers in a nonstop orgy . People who will have sex without conflating it with love, possession, jealousy, status or other issues. To prevent inferiority conflicts with mission rank, sexual performance should be evaluated along with other mission skills.

    All of it on camera, especially the long seasons spent in zero-g. The syndication rights could fund the entire mission, and the subsequent colonization.
  • by Vollernurd (232458) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:03AM (#17948006)
    This is an interesting one. In centuries past when boat crews of men would find themself at sea for many months without female company many strange behaviours emerged. Homosexual acts between otherwise "heterosexual" red-bloodeed Jack Tars became quite normal.

    Can even science effectively moderate and control the human sexual urge? The Royal Navy of days gone by turned a blind eye to most of it, so I gather from unreliable sources I may have read. I believe the words in my subject here are attributed to the answer Winston Churchill gave when asked what made the Royal Navy of old so strong.

    Jeez, I can't imagine finding many of my colleagues alluring even after spending 6 months trapped in a submarine with them!
  • Re:Submariners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chmcginn (201645) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:09AM (#17948108) Journal
    Very true. But I'm pretty sure there's plenty of people who's cry sexism from here to Jupiter if NASA suggested an all-male crew for that stated reason.
  • by Giometrix (932993) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:15AM (#17948186) Homepage
    NASA has one incident like this in its nearly 50 years of history and they think they need to change their screening policy? I'd say they had a great run, and that this incident was a fluke.

    Also, it seems that this particular astronaut had lots of stress related to being a single parent. I can't help but feel that NASA would not send parents (single or otherwise) of small children on very long missions. Maybe I'm wrong, but it I'd think that this is just begging for psychological issues to bubble up over time.
  • Re:Submariners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker.gmail@com> on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:18AM (#17948256) Journal
    Did you even read the article you linked. It stated there have been some female higher officers, ie they get private quarters. But no females among the rank and file.
  • Strange difference (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bytesex (112972) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:19AM (#17948280) Homepage
    I find the difference in treatment by the media and the executive of this incident (vs. others I can think of) very perculiar: not that they're not all over her, but because she's an astronaut, papers respectfully note that the family has asked us to 'withhold judgement'. NASA keeps her 'in seclusion'. The judge granted bail. If driving 1000 miles with equipment to kidnap and kill had happened to any other person in any other profession, they would have locked her up and throw away the key - but not here. She's part of a sacred league after all.
  • Help, not screen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:25AM (#17948378)

    NASA's problem is that they're stuck in the old model of "we want to find the VERY BEST candidate" and a "process of elimination." Many corporations long ago realized that you look for good people you can refine to be the best and you keep them. NASA's like an employer that shows a brilliant stock trader the door after an interview because he's a horrendous dresser, instead of hiring him and his supervisor taking him to a tailor some evening.

    Guess what? We're all full of faults, and even after decades of refining their screening technique, they didn't detect that this woman could have serious mental issues.

    Would You Seek Help If It Meant You'd Never Fly On the Shuttle [sciam.com] covers the matter better than I could, but basically: NASA's reaction to this is more intense screening, when it should be to recognize the commitment made on both sides and help them resolve their personal problems.

    My employer has an entire department dedicated to helping employees with "life" problems. It's anonymous; your supervisor or coworkers never find out you even talked to them. Why? Because it's better to have someone for you to talk to and try and help you with little problems, before they become problems that interfere with your work. Had NASA had a similar program, chances are the astronaut in question would have received the mental help/counselling she needed.

    Instead, NASA lost a great astronaut and her life has been destroyed.

  • Re:Submariners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orcrist (16312) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:43AM (#17948622)
    On a more serious note, submariners do not spend the entirety of the time submerged away from civilisation. They probably spend at the absolute most a month outside of human contact at sea.

    Well that's nice speculation.... but wrong. This should have been modded interesting, not informative.

    The nuclear missile submarines do 3 months straight submerged -- every single patrol (my personal longest was 87 days) -- and many submarines have done extended tours, though admittedly usually for PR reasons, like the early Nautilus cruises.

    In any case, the original suggestion took the words right our of my mouth. We submariners are the closest to representing people with an appropriate personality type for an extended mission in cramped quarters. NASA should definitely do extended observations and psych evaluations of sub crews on patrols and such.

    -chris
  • Re:Submariners (Score:1, Insightful)

    by tommyhj (944468) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:46AM (#17948682)
    Actually not a bad idea! Apart from the fact that all female groups tend to be emotionally unstable - especially if there's only one male (unless he rules them with a stern hand!). What about All-male crew and only one female, but this time it's agreed that she must provide sexual relief for the rest of the crew? Hmmm... mmmmhmm... Also a good script for a movie :-D Well, Just install some device to take sexual stress off the crew, and give them pills to lower testosterone/androgen levels...
  • Re:Spaceballs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by benzapp (464105) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:58AM (#17948896)
    You can also just have a harem of sex slaves, whom the crew can fuck at will.
  • by demachina (71715) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:59AM (#17948924)
    "NASA's current archetype of highly-driven, task-oriented people might be precisely the wrong type for a Mars expedition"

    NASA's current astronaut office is viewed by many as wrong for just about every mission.

    First off their are way to many astronauts. There are over 100, they spend their lives in pursuit of this one goal, and even if they get in to the office they may never fly, or if they do, most fly once. The approaching end of life of the Shuttle is further aggravating a bad situation. Unless you are already scheduled for one of the remaining missions chances are your space faring career is over, unless you are young enough to last the decade until the Moon ramps up if it ever does.

    Today's astronauts come across as a politically correct bunch of over achievers with some screws loose in general. These people have to be somewhat nuts to jump through all the hoops they have to jump through, to spend the prime of their lives chasing a one week flight on the Shuttle, and spend years trapped in the horrible NASA bureaucracy as the price they pay.

    The best solution we could get is to make space flight really routine, and relagate the current astronaut corp to pilots where they belong. Everyone else should be specialists and experts in the fields you need to colonize the Moon or Mars, with a heavy emphasis on handymen who can repair stuff when it breaks with limited resources, green thumbs who can keep people fed, geologists who can find and tap raw materials, etc.

    It would be nice if people could routinely travel in space without being a fracking Astronaut/Cosmonaut in the first place.

    As for dealing with the sex issue.... good luck. Its nearly impossible to prevent people losing it one way or another over sex. It is one of those areas where our primal instincts still exist, and are nearly impossible to completely suppress or control.
  • Sexuality in Space (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Surasanji (938753) on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:06PM (#17949032) Journal
    Its a very important question. Place men and women together without proper birth-control (Or even with them refusing it) You might get the situation of the first child born in space, and by the time they got back they'd have grown up in a zero gravity situation. Furthermore, there's a lot that can go wrong with Pregnancy, even among healthy people- and we're certainly not ready for zero-gravity conception, pregnancy and birth. As far as we know there have been no such experiences with humans. Furthermore, what about the relationship dynamic. Stuck with a single man or woman, are you sure those people would really get along. Would they begin to dislike each other? Can you really expect adults to not have sex for over two years? A lot more questions, it seems, are going to need to be answered before we can assure the emotional and mental health of our astronauts.
  • Re:Spaceballs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:31PM (#17949460) Homepage Journal
    Who needs the overhead of the crew, when the sex slaves can do all the work, and fuck each other?
  • You are correct. Screening didn't stop Nowak, and we don't know of how many others are borderline. The fact is that someone willing to sit on top of what is practically a controlled bomb for a ride hundreds of miles into space is going to have a certain amount of loony in them. Now take into account how many astronauts are willing to take the next leap into being someone who will be trapped in a can for months with two other roommates and CANNOT be voted off the island no matter how berserk they get, and no contact with other humans for months. You're going to have some fringe candidates, no matter what.

    I say that whoever is going to go on this mission needs to be a complete introvert who does not need constant human interaction and can while away their time on experiments and reading. A bunch of people with mild Asperger's might fit the mold.

    Is that then the future of humanity as we head for the stars? People who aren't the mainstream definition of human who can tolerate the extreme rigors will be the ones on worlds that survive this world. It was true back in the days of wagon pioneers and will be true in the days of space caravans.
  • Re:Submariners (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WinterSolstice (223271) on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:59PM (#17949938)
    Pilots don't fly multi-month missions. They tend to have short term, results-oriented personalities.

    Scientists? Like the ones that have done so well on all those extremely long Bio-Sphere missions and such? Oh - wait - they haven't.

    I'm not talking about whether people are smart, or capable, or able to do brilliant research. I'm talking about handling the tedious monotony of 2 month long patrols without surfacing. Dealing with crap from supervisors with no possible recourse. Living in quarters so tight that your idea of personal space is what's inside your uniform.

    Sub duty is not a party or a quick jaunt around the planet for a week or two. It's not even like being on a carrier where you have sunrises, sunsets, fish, fresh air, etc. It's a tight, cramped, cold, noisy little space unto itself.
  • Re:Spaceballs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuickFox (311231) on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:07PM (#17950048)
    Actually in a way you joke is insightful. Bringing a couple of cats would be a great idea. In the long run cats have a strong soothing influence on people.
  • Re:Submariners (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tommyhj (944468) on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:12PM (#17950148)
    i think the comments were purely meant to be humerous, with a lot of irony. While much of this irony and humor is lost on a few select individuals, many of the slashdotters will nod in nostalgia to old scifi classics like "Barbarella", and quite a few of the original Star Trek episodes - and see the relevance of the topic discussed and talks of "all female groups visited by male away-crew" and "all male crew visited by Barbarella". The idea of long periods alone in space and the intersocial implications it has, have spawned a lot of litterature over time (including a lot of Star Trek episodes), most of which the classic nerdy slashdotter has read or seen. Oh, and we're mostly men - when it comes to sex in space, we go all "Uga uga arrrh, theehee!" :-D
  • Re:Submariners (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chosen Reject (842143) on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:15PM (#17950212)
    You're about the 4th person to reply to the GP and correct him about how long submarines stay down. The problem though is that while the GP was wrong about the time, he was still correct in that submarines aren't away from civilization for 30 months like a trip to Mars would be. Even at the longest time suggested so far, submarines are only down for six months. That's a fifth of what a trip to Mars would be. It's hardly a comparison.
  • Re:Submariners (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lamona (743288) on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:27PM (#17950412) Homepage
    Fights break out over the stupidest things.

    Can you say "soccer riot?"

  • Re:Submariners (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:44PM (#17950722) Homepage

    They only need to look as far as the crew on a submarine to see what makeup can last a year. AFIK they are all male crew.

    Right...because there are absolutely NO gay submariners and even if there were they would be completely immune to the psychological stress of wanting that which you cannot have.

    Lets face it, all of these types of extended missions are calculated risks. There is no telling what may or may not happen ultimately, but one thing is certain...humans inherently want that which they do not have. It is how we got to be where we are today. I say give astronauts sex...or pills to kill their sex drive, or a Real Doll or Fleshlight or something. But to try to deny their human nature while doing nothing to supress the desires is foolish.

  • by bhiestand (157373) on Friday February 09, 2007 @02:20PM (#17951306) Journal

    Now take into account how many astronauts are willing to take the next leap into being someone who will be trapped in a can for months
    I doubt there are many astronauts who would turn down the first trip to mars. Even if they did, you'd have a million more volunteers. Perhaps they could select some submariners instead of fighter jockeys this time?

    with two other roommates and CANNOT be voted off the island no matter how berserk they get, and no contact with other humans for months.
    Oh, I see your perception of reality has been shaped by watching television shows. Shows like survivor intentionally place entertaining combinations of personalities in the room. Let me say this again: They pick overly emotional, irrational people, and prod them into becoming entertainment that sells to the masses. This does not mean that the typical group of astronauts, boxers, survivalists, or any other section of society is going to break down into whining babies within an hour of living together. Many humans deal with, and even enjoy, this sort of environment. The US Navy has a lot of great examples, submariners in particular, but so do the merchant marines, fishermen, cruise ship crews, and many other jobs within the military.

    I say that whoever is going to go on this mission needs to be a complete introvert who does not need constant human interaction and can while away their time on experiments and reading. A bunch of people with mild Asperger's might fit the mold.
    I can't think of a worse candidate for a mission like this. I can tolerate living and working with the same people for years at a time, but I would probably lose it if I had to spend my time with people who actively avoid socializing.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday February 09, 2007 @02:46PM (#17951728) Journal

    First is the most obvious difference between a sub crew and a mars space mission crew. Size. Even small subs have several dozen crew members. This makes for totally different group dynamics then a group of half a dozen people.

    Then there is the size of the vessel itself. Subs are HUGE by comparison. I am sure how you could possibly call a boomer cramped. Yes space is at a premium BUT you could go for a run. A short one but it is possible. Space is far more cramped.

    Then there is intelligence. While I only know people in the surface navy I can honestly say that they do not strike me as rocket scientists. On the other hand I presume that NASA would prefer to put people on mars with an IQ above room temperature. Lets face it, there is a big difference between the needs of a mars explorer and even the most demanding position on a submarine. This is again due to size. A submarine could carry a doctor with almost no other duties. In space, your would need a doctor who can be a pilot and an engineer all at once. And would have to be a pilot of extra-ordinary capability landing a bleeding edge ship on an unknown planet and an engineer working with cutting edge equipment. A bit different then maintaining a navy sub.

    Distance. While subs MAY submerge for months they do not have to. How long does it take a sub to surface from its greatest depth? A sub that stays submerged for 3 months is NOT away from civilations for that amount of time. The distance from the rest of humanity is ONLY the time it takes to surface. The only thing that gets close are those missions were the sub sails under the ice sheets and the ice is too thick to break through.

    Simply put, if a crew member gets injured or goes berserk he can be taken of the sub at a moments notice. In space, 3 months would just be the start of the journey. If someone breaks then you cannot even return yet until you arrived at mars and go through the procedure for the return trip.

    It is not that submarine crews are bad, but just as the article mentioned, that current space space shuttle crews are perhaps not best suited for long duration exploration.

    I recall a story of one astronaut in the days of the moon race who broke something just before he was supposed to be launched playing football. Yeah, very manly and studly. But do you think such a person who does something as stupid as that is suited to sitting cooped up for two years? if he had broken something in space being stupid he would have been a few days away from rescue but more importantly, only a few days worth of effort would have been lost if the mission had failed because of it.

    If something goes wrong at the end of the first year of a mars mission that is an entire year down the drain.

    Back to your submarine crew, be honest here, how many of them have gotten themselves sick/injured demanding that someone else replace them, they had to be taken off or could not go on a tour?

    In space, there is no med-evac.

  • Re:Simple solution (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:40PM (#17952522)
    3. Marry the whole crew into one group.

    This doesn't really solve the jealousy thing. People still have feelings, at best you've removed legal barriers, at worst you've justified assine behavior towards each other. Lock 5 friends in a room together long enough and there won't be 5 friends anymore.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:49PM (#17952640) Journal
    I don't think it requires complete introverts, or mild Asperger's, or any of that. All you need is three reasonably friendly, happy people, who get along, currently, with other people.

    The problem is: this doesn't describe the people NASA is selecting as astronauts. They have to be incredibly driven: they need PhD's and the ability to pass moderately rigorous physical requirements, and the tenacity to push their lives and other goals aside until they manage to outcompete everyone else who is trying to become an astronaut.

    If NASA wanted to find people fit for this kind of mission they could look at submarines, at monastaries, or just find people who are described by their friends as "someone I would enjoy being stuck on an island with." What they DON'T need is a bunch of hyperintelligent, hypercompetitive people: exactly the people who manage to get their feet in the NASA door.

    In other words, NASA needs to select, rather than choosing those who want to be selected.

    Now that we've gotten that settled, let's do the same thing for politicians and CEO's, coz a lot of the problems we're facing today are because exactly the same kinds of people as this poor unstable woman are running our country and companies, for exactly the same reason: they're the ones who have pushed the hardest to get there, and are, as a result, scary people who will fight hard to maintain what they have.

    Or, we could just bundle about 1200 kilos of pot along with the Mars astronauts, and ditto politicians and CEO's. If they pass a drug test, they get fired.
  • Re:Submariners (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:01PM (#17952852) Homepage Journal
    "Why is it that Slashdotters often seem unable to discuss anything that has to do with women, no matter how serious the topic, without deviating into their sexual fantasies?"

    I'm guessing you are female.

    This is normal...and since I'm guessing that /. is overwhelmingly male in its membership, you're getting a glimpse into the lockerroom world of men.

    Men think about sex...most of us, all the time. Let me say that again for emphasis...ALL the time. I think it was put forth that a teen male has a sexual thought on the avg. of every 30 seconds or so. Well, even as we age...that only slows down a little. That is just our nature.

    That being the case...I'd guess most of us on here are hetero, so, our thoughts are directed towards women. Sure, many of us have loving relationships, but, deep down the primal driving force for us to associate with women...plain and simple...sex. You are first and foremost, something for us to have sex with. We're lucky that many of you are neat people too..and that is a plus. But in the deepest regions...you are sex objects first.

    This isn't meant to be demeaning or anything a woman might perceive this as...it is just the basic truth on how we operate and see the world. I'd go on a limb to say the reason we're constantly "..deviating into their sexual fantasies" is that for 90% of our waking hours...that's about all we think about in some form or fashion.

    I've often heard it said, if women could actually read and know men's thoughts....they'd all run screaming for the hills.

  • by orcrist (16312) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:51PM (#17954810)
    A lot of good points which deserve a much more thoughtful answer than I'm gonna give, since I don't have the time right now. But I'll address a couple of them vaguely:

    * Away from human contact: sure you have some points that the situation is very different, but we were talking about the psychology. It doesn't matter how close civilization technically is; an inch is as good as a mile if you can't see, hear, or smell it. Being there, you knew you weren't going to be seeing any of that stuff soon -- barring very unusual circumstances. Thinking "well, if I flip out they can evac me" doesn't exactly soften that psychologically.

    * Intelligence and training: Again, I was addressing the psychology aspect, but submariners definitely have a higher intelligence requirement. There is definitely *NO* comparison to 'skimmer' (surface navy ;-) crews. Even the cooks have to get test scores that will get you technical ratings elsewhere in the Navy since... (to address the "duties" point above) everyone on a submarine has several jobs. Everyone learns at least a little about the other jobs. Everyone with the silver dolphins knows:
    * where every see-pressure valve is, what it's for, and how to isolate it
    * where every major electrical system is, what it does, and where to isolate it.
    * The location and type of every single fire extinguisher, hose, air mask, etc. (we demonstrate this by taking a blind-folded walk of the sub with the sub-qualification examiners)
    * How all major systems work: electrical, hydraulic, pressurized air... ... and lots more.

    Same basic idea as a space mission, though of course not to the degree necessary for an actual Mars mission, but I'm assuming NASA can be a bit more choosy about the handful picked for that.

    My point was only that few if any non-space jobs come as close to the basic parameters of such a mission as that of being the crew of a nuclear submarine. Not that NASA can just grab a few sub crew members and go; rather, I meant that they could get some good data from such crews and the environments.

    -chris

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