At the 2019 MIT Space2 workshop, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Director of TRISH Dorit Donoviel about how TRISH works with MIT, California Institute of Technology and NASA to fund research to safeguard the health and wellness of astronauts in deep space. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Dorit Donoviel: The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH for short, is an institute that’s based out of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. We’re partnered in the consortium with MIT and Caltech and with NASA to fund breakthrough research that can safeguard the health and wellness of astronauts in deep space.
Teena Maddox: Tell me how the workshops and sessions that will be here, in particular your session, how it impacts our day-to-day life. How the applications can work on Earth, as well.
Dorit Donoviel: We’re very excited to be sponsoring this workshop, Spaces in Space: Optimizing Indoor Environments for Behavioral Health. Because one of the concerns that we have for long duration space flight that’s 30 months, essentially, in deep space… about the behavioral health or the mental well-being of our astronauts. This workshop will be examining how one can modify the indoor environment through smells and sights and sounds to improve emotional well-being, particularly in confined environments. This has a lot of applications beyond space. In the home, for example, for seniors that are unable to get out of the home, senior living environments, hospitals for patients who stay for long periods of time, schools, even with a workplace such as in Fortune 500 companies that people spend long hours indoors working hard, as well as prisons and many other scenarios.
We believe that behavioral health is not to be taken for granted. Whether you’re a high-performing astronaut or a teacher in a schoolhouse or school room and that we can enrich the environments indoors in order to safeguard the health, behavioral health in particular, of people working.
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Teena Maddox: What are some of the issues you see in these confined environments that you guys can help solve?
Dorit Donoviel: So, particularly, in confined environments where you have an unvarying scenario, essentially. In particular, like in a space craft on the way to Mars, we’re not gonna have changes in seasons. We’re not gonna have normal light dark cycle. We’re not gonna have varying… being able to go outside, even, and feel the sun or feel the wind or feel the rain. It’s going to be a very sterile environment with recirculated air and so we wanna be thinking about several things that can make sure that the astronauts or anybody who lives in a confined space for long periods of time can make sure that it helps them stay emotionally healthy. How much privacy do you need? How much social interactions do you need? What sights, smells, sounds, feelings do you need to stay healthy? Interactions with living things such as animals or plants that may not be a possibility for space flight. But what about those things that we take for granted here on Earth are most important and what can we reproduce synthetically in a more artificial environment that’s closed?
So it’s very interesting. We’re actually exploring possibilities such as smells, different lighting conditions. We’re exploring immersive virtual reality to bring you with your loved ones in a virtual reality setting. We’re exploring combining, for example, creating an indoor environment that can simulate the change in the seasons with different temperatures and humidity et cetera. These things can be technically challenging for a closed environment, but we may be able to come up with a solution that’s reasonable, that can help humans feel more at home.
Teena Maddox: Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t touch upon?
Dorit Donoviel: Our institute makes grants. We use the money that we get from NASA, which is roughly 20 million dollars a year over a 12 year period, and we turn around and we make grants to universities and companies who are developing interesting new solutions that we can implement in the space environment. And the space environment is not unique. You’re not developing just for a very small market. Because we set the bar very high, forgive the pun, the solutions that we’re funding actually have a lot of applications here on Earth and it’s non-dilutive funding for companies. You get to keep all the intellectual property. So we have grant opportunities and many ways to engage with our institute so that you can get access to engineers and scientists and physicians throughout the world that work with us and the space program. And together, with the public private partnership, we really are pushing the limits of technology and science.