The Planet Behind Your Eyes


Vsauce! Kevin here! On planet sMars. Simulated Mars — an eerie and otherworldly
corner of the world located on the barren slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. National Geographic’s upcoming show “Mars”
details the realities of colonizing the Red Planet, and I partnered with them to talk
about the future of living in a place like this. After 12-months of seclusion, six scientists,
not quite astronauts but lavanauts, have emerged from studying what life on an inhabited Mars
might be like. How do we keep our bodies functioning in a
place not meant for us? More importantly, 140 million miles from Earth’s
oxygen, gravity and family — how do we keep our minds functioning? The Hawai’i Space Exploration and Analog
Simulation, or HI-SEAS, is a geodesic dome with around 1,300 sq feet of livable space
designed for six scientists. A two-way software-imposed 20 minute time
delay on communication mimics the speed of light message restriction between Mars and
Earth. Amenities includes a dining area, a kitchen,
a bathroom, an exercise area and six bedrooms. Leaving the habitat, or hab for short, requires
a Hazmat suit which simulates the encumbering spacesuit needed for performing geology-related
tasks on Mars. On actual Mars, astronauts will need spacesuits
for warmth and oxygen, as well as pressure. The thin atmosphere on Mars would cause Earthling
eyeballs, lungs and skin to dry out. Like a lot. Since it costs $10,000 per pound to blast
things into space, survival items are kept to a bare minimum. Everything needs to be recycled. Filtered urine waters plants, and lights of
optimal wavelength help them grow. A day’s worth of sun charges batteries for
a day and a half of power. There’s composting toilet, a pedicycle charges
small devices like iPads, and the clean water used for their 30-second showers becomes grey
water used to mop the floor. Primary funding for HI-SEAS IV came from the
NASA Behavioral Health and Performance Element — they want to find out how crews adapt to
each other under such stressful, confined and isolated environments. Board games help bonding and mental stimulation. Musical instruments like Andrezj’s guitar
and Shey’s didgeridoo help the lavanauts stay connected to culture. Plush animals like Raspberry and Trouble can
substitute for real pets and bring moments of levity to a serious situation. They act as a social bridge, a comfort-object-conduit
for bringing people together. Every little way to boost morale is vital
because once humans leave the planet, even things that bring joy can also bring sadness. Astronauts frequently cite being able to see
the Earth as one of their most rewarding, beautiful experiences, but seeing Earth as
a tiny, insignificant dot can increase sensations of distance and loneliness… and this ‘Overview
Effect’ can also inspire crews to focus on the importance of protecting their planet.  Exploring is complicated — we don’t know
what’s beyond the horizon, but like that one kid in kindergarten —  someone’s always
willing to taste the crayon. The word Pioneer comes from the Old French
‘paonier,’ meaning “foot soldier” — the first people to face danger. From pre-historic times to Paradise, Nevada
– humans have constantly pushed their boundaries. But while over 90% of the ocean remains unexplored,
we are enchanted by life among the stars. In 1865, Jules Verne’s “From the Earth
to the Moon” suggested we fire men out of a huge cannon to launch them into space. We developed rocket propulsion instead — and
the challenge now is to figure out how to live beyond Earth’s atmosphere. That starts with finding the right people. The kind of person that on the day of being
the first human launched into space was calming everyone else down. On the day of the launch, the head of the
Soviet space program said of space pioneer Yuri Gagarin, “During the days of preparation
of the launch, when everyone had more than his share of concerns, apprehensions, and
anxieties, he alone seemed to keep calm. More than that: he was full of good spirits
and beamed like the sun.” Yuri was in space for an hour and forty eight
minutes. An unbelievable accomplishment at a time when
scientists weren’t sure whether eyeballs would warp in zero gravity and make astronauts
blind — but it’s not even enough time to watch Star Wars. And 1969’s Space Race-winning manned moon-landing
mission Apollo 11 took just over eight days total or 96 viewings of Star Wars Episode
IV A New Hope…the point is… The current record for longest consecutive
time spent in space is held by Valeri Polyakov aboard the space station Mir – clocking in
at 437.7 days. Mars could be a three year trip. It’s roughly nine months each way if we
launch when Earth and Mars are closest in their respective orbits. Add in time spent on the surface and it’s
about three years living in the most unnatural and isolated environment ever attempted by
humans.  And we’re no stranger to making ourselves…strangers. Searching for new lands requires a fearless
portion of the species to venture out into unknown territory — to be curious and to
take action. Clara Ma, a 12 year old girl in Kansas, gave
the Mars rover “Curiosity” its name, saying that, “curiosity is the passion that drives
us through our everyday lives.”  And those of us who stay behind revel in
hearing the stories of the curious. Tales of great adventure date back to one
of humanity’s oldest stories – Homer’s Odyssey, an 8th century BC epic poem documenting
Odysseus’s ten year journey home after the Trojan War, which includes having a Cyclops
toss half a mountain at him, contending with the lure of the Sirens, and fighting off the
six-headed monster Scylla. Despite all that – he made it home. And with Greek monsters behind us we look
forward to conquering a planet named for a Roman God. Baby steps from leaving the atmosphere to
walking on the moon to entering Mars – informed by what we’ve learned from the solitude of
pioneers and prisoners. The 1862 Homestead Act granted settlers 160
acres of land — about twice the size of Disneyland — separated people from each other and long,
harsh winters seemed to erase all plant and animal life. “Prairie madness”, caused depression,
increased violence, and even total mental breakdown. Things got really lonely in the little house
on the prairie. On sea, things get even lonelier. Calenture was a feverish delirium afflicting
sailors in the Tropics that could manifest in picturing the water as a grassy meadows
and diving overboard. Traveling to Earth’s most remote reaches
of Antarctica reveals solitude that hurts. Australian Meteorologist Morton Moyes, who
spent 10 weeks alone in Queen Mary Land wrote in 1912, “The silence is so painful now
that I have a continual singing in my left ear, much like a Barrel Organ, only it’s the
same tune.” If the sound of silence is painful — what
happens when you’re cut off from your own senses? A 1951 study at McGill University, that would
never be approved today, looked at the effects of solitary confinement – a method of punishing
prisoners. It was scheduled to last six weeks; it was
abandoned after one. In a room with only a bed, subjects wore goggles
and earphones to limit their senses. They reported being unable,  “to think
clearly about anything for any length of time.” Those who could think became mentally trapped,
hallucinating about things like eyeglasses and dogs. In a tiny room, in controlled conditions,
monitored by researchers – they were lost. In themselves. Seemingly simple tasks can go haywire in isolation. When French geologist Michel Siffre resurfaced
after 8 weeks under a glacier in the French alps, it took him five minutes to count 120
seconds. And sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent
a full year inside a cavern designed by NASA to study isolation. He thought it was only 219 days. Somehow in that cave, 146 days were lost. Without social and environmental cues, time
begins to stretch and warp. So for space travel we’re working on ways
to preserve the mind. A dinner table was requested by Astronauts
on the International Space Station so they could build camaraderie and be comforted by
eating together. Music is so important to combat cultural isolation
that since Apollo 15 in 1971, NASA has beamed songs into space as wake-up calls. We need to share jokes, songs, and struggles
with others to keep a connection to Earth and to ourselves. Otherwise we could become like Mr. Bedford
in H.G. Wells’ 1901 book “The First Men In The Moon” whose journey into infinite
space included experiencing, “… a sort of idea that really I was something
quite outside not only the world, but all worlds, and out of space and time, and that
this poor Bedford was just a peephole through which I looked at life” The basic survival elements on Earth — air,
food, shelter — can be recreated in Space. We can science our way to life on Mars, but
only if our humanity arrives intact. The Break-off Effect, first documented in
a 1957 study of high-altitude pilots, is defined by a profound dissociation from reality that
can occur high above Earth. 18 of the 137 pilots freaked out with intense
feelings of fear and anxiety. But the majority reacted with a previously
unknown sense of euphoria — a newfound understanding of the oneness of the planet, humanity and
all creation. When Alexei Leonov returned to Earth after
being the first human to float freely in space during a 12 minute and 9 second spacewalk
in 1965, he responded to concerns for his mental health by saying, “As for the so-called
psychological barrier that was supposed to be insurmountable by man preparing to confront
the cosmic abyss alone, I not only did not sense any barrier, but even forgot that there
could be one.” Conquering our mental space is crucial for
surviving in outer space. The journey to Mars starts with the planet
behind your eyes. And as always – thanks for watching. Special thanks to National Geographic for
sponsoring this episode and supporting Vsauce. Be sure to check out their global event series
– Mars.

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