Although there is evidence to suggest space travel is psychologically taxing, NASA has published research on mental health for their astronauts and takes the physical and emotional risks seriously. According to NBC News, NASA has a Behavioral Health and Performance Group. Kelley Slack, one of the psychologists, explains that while they cannot prevent some physical challenges, they have a plan in place for their upcoming trip to Mars.
NASA is looking for a suitable team. They explain that Lance Armstrong displayed the desired qualities for an astronaut when he noted that while his heart was pounding when the team encountered a moon dust issue, he was still able to think clearly. While this quality is great, NASA is clear that they are looking for a team that can keep their heads but who can also engage in emotional conversations since there will be no access to psychologists. While there are years left of work to do, many researchers are invested in ensuring that the Mars journey will be a safe experience for the crew. Peggy Wu of SIFT is investigating a program called ANSIBLE that could allow the team to walk through simulated galleries or see virtual representations of their friends.
NASA also uses “analog missions” to predict the kinds of challenges that could come up for their astronauts by simulating a Mars-like environment for up to a year. While they feared that most problems would arise due to being trapped in a confined space with the same people for such a significant amount of time, the most issues actually occurred in communication with mission control and rarely within the stand-in team.
NASA also points out that they have always sent their astronauts to space with a very specific plan should an emergency break out due to a psychological problem. While this plan is clear to the team, no one has ever had to use it or handle drastic behavioral problems or crises.