A special spaceflight simulator will be used during the southern winter to study how previously acquired skills are maintained over nine months of the winter, when crews are isolated and in the dark for four months. Crew members are currently being trained in the simulator to perform a docking of the Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station.
‘The skill retention question is not about the darkness per se, but more the whole set-up of isolation and confinement, and sensory deprivation, which is very similar to a long duration spaceflight. so, to investigate this, I’ve trained them according to a standard curriculum on docking the Soyuz spacecraft to the international space station,’ says Nathalie Pattyn, Halley Research Centre’s doctor.
The Halley crew will live in the same conditions as teams being studied at Concordia – a joint French/Italian station, located on the other side of the continent – except they will be at sea level. Their colleagues at Dome Concordia live at 3200m above sea level, which, in terms of lack of oxygen, corresponds to an altitude of approximately 3800m at the equator.
Team members will also record themselves on a video diary. This will be analysed via an computer algorithm through parameters such as pitch or word choice, that will provide a new window to objective monitoring of psychological status, and thus adaptations to the stresses of prolonged space flight.
Halley Research Station is home to between 13–52 scientists and support staff and is located over 10,000 miles away from the UK. It is about to embark on winter and will experience temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius and more than four months of darkness.