Mars 520-d mission simulation reveals protracted crew hypokinesis and alterations of sleep duration and timing


The success of interplanetary human spaceflight will depend on many factors, including the behavioral activity levels, sleep, and circadian timing of crews exposed to prolonged microgravity and confinement. To address the effects of the latter, we used a high-fidelity ground simulation of a Mars mission to objectively track sleep–wake dynamics in a multinational crew of six during 520 d of confined isolation. Measurements included continuous recordings of wrist actigraphy and light exposure (4.396 million min) and weekly computer-based neurobehavioral assessments (n = 888) to identify changes in the crew's activity levels, sleep quantity and quality, sleep–wake periodicity, vigilance performance, and workload throughout the record-long 17 mo of mission confinement. Actigraphy revealed that crew sedentariness increased across the mission as evident in decreased waking movement (i.e., hypokinesis) and increased sleep and rest times. Light exposure decreased during the mission. The majority of crewmembers also experienced one or more disturbances of sleep quality, vigilance deficits, or altered sleep–wake periodicity and timing, suggesting inadequate circadian entrainment. The results point to the need to identify markers of differential vulnerability to hypokinesis and sleep–wake changes during the prolonged isolation of exploration spaceflight and the need to ensure maintenance of circadian entrainment, sleep quantity and quality, and optimal activity levels during exploration missions. Therefore, successful adaptation to such missions will require crew to transit in spacecraft and live in surface habitats that instantiate aspects of Earth's geophysical signals (appropriately timed light exposure, food intake, exercise) required for temporal organization and maintenance of human behavior.

Authors: Mathias Basner, David F. Dinges, Daniel Mollicone, Adrian Ecker, Christopher W. Jones, Eric C. Hyder, Adrian Di Antonio, Igor Savelev, Kevin Kan, Namni Goel, Boris V. Morukov, and Jeffrey P. Sutton

Edited by Joseph S. Takahashi, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, and approved November 27, 2012 (received for review July 31, 2012)


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