Testing astronaut stress in space

An Interview with:
David F. Dinges, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
NSBRI Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors Team

Courtesy of EarthSky Communications

David Dinges, a scientist working with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, is developing a test to help astronauts in space gauge their own stress and fatigue.

David Dinges: It's remarkably simple. You would pull up on the computer the test, and up would come a series of questions, very short ones, asking you basically what are the conditions of today. Did you sleep last night? Have you had any space motion sickness? How tired are you now?

The test would measure how quickly astronauts push a button in response to a light flashing on a computer screen.

David Dinges: You just do that test for three minutes then you get a final score that says, here's your percentage score on where you are compared to alert, capable astronauts.

This simple test could help astronauts gauge their fitness for performing critical tasks like docking their ship to a space station or taking a spacewalk. Dinges said the test could also help people on Earth.

David Dinges: Whether you're trying to understand whether people are safe operating transportation vehicles, long-haul aircraft, trucks, etc., this test has potential value to a large number of contexts where you'd like to know who is fit and ready to perform and who isn't.