CBHMM1. Mission Complete.
The 8th day of our mission and we are done our research. We are waiting for our “shuttle” back to “earth” which will be here around noon. Until then, we are still in simulation. Our first duty today is to clean the Hab for the next crew – there is a team coming in from the European Space Agency for a two week mission right after us. Indeed, our last official duty before we leave will be to train the ESA crew on how to use the Hab – how the systems work, how to go on EVA, etc.
Our research has been a complete success. Our brain performance assessment works as we thought it would. Over the course of one week in the Hab, we saw very clear trends each day showing a sharp decrease in brain performance and an acute increase in cognitive fatigue from the time we woke up till the time we went to bed. In other words, the stress and pace of life in the Hab took its toll each day and we were experiencing acute cognitive fatigue by the time we went to bed. In practical terms, this has been quite obvious to us. For instance, last night while we were trying to play cards during our down time before bed all of us made numerous dumb mistakes that were the tells of cognitive fatigue. If you look at the accompanying figure, you see a very obvious decrease in brain performance each day and the corresponding increases in cognitive fatigue. Interestingly, a trend emerged over the course of the week and we saw a slow decline in brain performance over our seven days in the Hab (and a slow increase in over cognitive fatigue). This makes sense, given that we have just worked seven 12 to 16 hour days in a row. And we are exhausted. The crew is definitely in need of some down time after the frenetic pace of a week with a high operational pace.
Our time in the Hab has been the coolest thing I have ever done and it is amazing to think that this crew, and our research, is playing a small but important part in the human effort to explore outer space. Additionally, the potential impact of our technology in areas such as performance monitoring and optimization, concussion assessment, tracking of cognitive impairments such as dementia, and of course fatigue monitoring is immeasurable.
You might be wondering about the format of these entries – one of our duties each day is to write crew reports. My job is to write the journalist report which is why this entry looks like, well, a report. Other reports that have to be written here in the Hab include the Science Report, the Engineering Report, EVA Reports, and the Daily Mission Report. As I have stated many times, our days are spent doing a wide range of activities to simulate life in a space station on Mars.
As I noted yesterday, life was starting to look like a science fiction movie and the theme at 6am was Ice Station Zebra. Our heater remain out overnight so when we woke up it was quite cold in the Hab, a balmy 4 degrees Celsius when we crawled out of bed. To make matters worse, the Hab was in a cloud bank with rain for most of the day so our solar array was not generating a lot of power. To add to our problems, the backup power generator failed to start which meant we started the day with only 15% in the batteries and with no way to charge them. Luckily, a call to CAPCOM prompted the release of a “repair drone” so we had to close the windows and wait for repairs to be done. I am happy to report as of 19:00 the heater is running again and the generator is providing power. We are hoping for a warmer sunny day tomorrow to return to solar power.
So what did we do all day?
Well, we woke up to presents from Crew Comander Michaela – she is from Slovakia and today is St. Nicholas Day for her so we woke up to festive clothing and freeze dried ice cream bars!
As the principle mission for the crew of CBHMM1 was our brain health and performance assessment we continued to do our tests and analyze our data. I have talked a lot about Cognitive Fatigue but tonight I will talk about a few of the other things we are measuring. Take a look at the figure below.
The trend within a day I have discussed before – an decrease in brain performance or as shown here an increase in cognitive fatigue. In other words, we experience low cognitive fatigue in the morning, and then an increase at midday, and a further increase at our evening assessment.
We are also examining other factors as noted – here you see that as the day progresses we need to exert increased mental effort. As noted in previous entries our assessment centres around playing cognitive games on an iPad that are relatively easy to play. However, as the day progresses we need to exert more cognitive effort to play these same games. In a related fashion, the games are harder as the day progresses because our ability to pay attention decreases. So, even though we are exerting mental effort, we are not able to pay attention as well as we can in the morning.
It is becoming more apparent to me that our brain health and performance assessment could have an impact a very wide range of areas.
Goodnight from Mars.
End of Report
Dr. Olav Krigolson is the Associate Director for the Centre for Biomedical Research, an Associate Professor in Neuroscience, and the Principle Investigator of the Theoretical and Applied Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Victoria.