Small Space Living- How Do People Get Along On The International Space Station?

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The International Space Station is not a tiny capsule. The International Space Station (ISS) has been compared to living in a 5-bedroom 2-bathroom home with a gym. It was created to carry up to 6 astronauts at any given time. Much like a planetary habitat, the living spaces will be sufficient but there is little control as to who you will live with. Most of the times, the crews for the ISS are selected by the participating countries based on mission needs with little attention to how they will interact with their fellow station-mates.

Unlike the Shuttle Missions of old that put the crews in difficult, if not perilous conditions to test the mettle of the astronauts and create a cohesive team, International Space Station mission crews are random. Which begs the question – what does it take to get along in space?

Most of the time, crew members on the ISS are working on experiments or space station maintenance. Despite most of these people having their own tasks and mission objectives, these virtual strangers need to work together to maintain the station and keep each other healthy.

Though NASA has a selection process for astronauts, this is not a foolproof process and their rules are not necessarily the same as those used by other nations. Personality clashes or even a simple lack of chemistry can create tensions. And, as on Earth, when in stressful situations, people tend to show their true personality. On the IS, the stress is inherent.

NASA astronauts have access to a psychologist at all times. Some of the astronauts include a weekly session with a mental health professional as part of their schedule. This commitment to mental health is an indication of how important it is for these men and women to address any irritations, hassles and upsets which can grow into unmanageable, toxic issues especially in space. The work these astronauts do is not unlike people on Earth doing a tele-session or internet session with a mental health professional.

Every morning and evening at the International Space Station, the crew meets to discuss the daily schedule as well as any issue that may have arisen during the day. The evening meetings are used to discuss conflicts or disagreements between crew members. Of course, the only way this works is if all crew members are committed to maintaining healthy relationships. Conflict resolution is only possible when all participants have a common goal or, at the very least, have compatible goals. If the crew members do not see the benefit or need to have a healthy relationship or peace on the ISS, then the only resolution is to create specific boundaries, so they can avoid one another or have a cold but civil relationship.

Albert Ellis, world renowned psychotherapist, said, “If the Martians ever find out how human beings think, they’ll kill themselves laughing.” Each individual mind is a universe of desires, irrationalities and understandings. Knowing how to relate with others is a life skill that is valued and can be the difference between success or failure. Getting long in space is not unlike getting along on Earth- it all depends on what kind of universe you want to create.