MIT Space2 workshop: Rethinking design of personal environments in space travel

At the 2019 MIT Space2 workshop, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Envirom Institute’s Ted Smith about how the MIT workshop focused on optimizing behavioral health and cognitive performance in confined environments found in space travel. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: Tell me a little about the workshop we’re attending at MIT and what the purpose is.

Ted Smith: This workshop at the MIT Media Lab is a rare and special opportunity for us to begin to focus on the opportunity to use the interior of a Mars mission spacecraft as medicine, if you will, to help us fight behavioral health risks like depression and aggression, and also help tune for optimal cognitive performance. So we’re really taking a hard look over the next day at all the things that you can put inside the spacecraft that would help keep astronauts well from a cognitive and behavioral health perspective.

Teena Maddox: Are there applications for the work environment? You know, in an office, things like that?

Ted Smith: This is a fun illustration of sometimes we look at what the space program does for us here on Earth. There are direct connections between how we think about the design of a workplace like a spacecraft and a workplace like your office. Among the researchers that will be here today are folks from industry, Steelcase Corporation is on a very robust research program looking at how these environmental factors make for productive and healthy workplaces in the offices on Earth, and, at the same time, there are lessons from that work that we hope that we can apply to the space transport.

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Teena Maddox: Tell me about University of Louisville and your role in this.

Ted Smith: The University of Louisville, we have recently created a research institute called The Envirome Institute, and quite simply, we are fully dedicated to understanding how modifications to the environment around us can either promote good health or create disease. So when it came time to put this workshop together, I’ve been on the advisory board for the hosts of this workshop, and I said, “You know what? We’d really like to identify a slate of speakers and put together a program because it’s so central to the way we think about health.” So we were delighted to be an organizing partner.

Teena Maddox: Tell me what’s next after the workshop.

Ted Smith: The purpose of today is to get a lot of these new ideas on the table, to really think broadly about all the different facets of the interior of this spacecraft, and then what will happen after this event is over is we will distill some of the new ideas for the space program, the translation research in super-space health will likely solicit research projects and so there will be funding available to pursue some of these different dimensions of space. I think we’re very much hopeful that we’ve brought enough of the startups and industry partners that we’ll be able to bring the healthcare industry in the United States into this conversation and that we can think about our environment as an every day way of being healthy.

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