U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger, who spent nearly 5 months aboard Mir with two cosmonauts, wrote that he “was astounded at how much I had underestimated the strain of living cut off from the world in an otherworldly environment” (Linenger, 2000, p. 151). Even though he had done all he could do to prepare for the mission, he experienced profound feelings of isolation and confinement as well as alienation from his crewmates (p. 152).
Cosmonauts and astronauts alike agreed that the most challenging interpersonal problems were not among the crewmembers but, rather, were between the crewmembers in space and the mission controllers on the ground. Lebedev portrayed the largest proportion of his contacts with his ground control negatively (e.g., pp. 96, 102, and 164). For Linenger, because of communication difficulties and his perception of little support from below, his aggravation with ground controllers in both Russia and the United States reached the point that he stopped communicating with them after the first month (pp. 123–127). His feelings are summed up in the title of one of his chapters, “Cosmonauts, Da! Mission Control, Nyet!” (p. 118).
It is important to recognize that no recent U.S. or Russian space missions have failed because of behavioral health problems that led to diminished performance. Some astronauts have suffered from space sickness and headaches, anxiety, anger, and depression and have faced sudden, life-threatening emergencies. So far as is known, however, all of them performed their jobs, and the missions were largely successful. Some crews may have gotten along better than others, but they worked effectively as a team when they had to.
Adverse Behavioral Health Events During Space Missions
NASA has accumulated data on the incidence of adverse behavioral health events from postflight medical debriefings. Among 508 crewmembers who flew a total of 4,442.8 days on board 89 space shuttle missions between 1981 and 1989, 34 “behavioral signs and symptoms” were reported to the medical staff, the most common being anxiety and annoyance (Billica, 2000). This calculates to 0.11 per 14 person-days, or about 2.86 per person-year. Among the seven astronauts who flew on Mir from March 1995 to June 1998, however, there were only two reported psychiatric events, for a yearly occurrence of about 0.77 percent.
It could be that the more experienced astronauts on Mir had fewer behavioral health symptoms than some of the crewmembers on the space shuttle missions, but this has not been documented. Also, it is difficult to know how to interpret these discrepant findings since it is not known whether the same criteria were used to diagnose the conditions. Finally, because experienced astronauts as a group are reluctant to report physical and behavioral symptoms to NASA physicians, this figure may underestimate their true incidence (Collins, 1974, 1990).
Behavioral Problems in Analog Environments
Data from analog settings are instructive since those who have spent considerable periods of time in isolated, confined, and harsh, dangerous environments have confronted many of the external stresses common to long-duration space missions. Two examples are sailors on U.S. submarine patrols and groups wintering over in the Antarctic. Four studies of the incidence of psychiatric disorders severe enough to cause the