Identify a physical or social problem faced during long duration space exploration within our Sun’s solar system and propose a solution.
Depression caused by isolation from familiar scents during long duration space travel.
Our problem is depression caused or made worse by isolation in extended space travel. At our first meeting, we decided to focus on a social problem experienced by astronauts. Based on our initial internet research, depression in astronauts is a very common problem experienced during and after space travel. Our focus is on depression occurring during their time in space. In order to arrive at a solution, we created a collaborative document in Google Drive to discuss possible solutions and post our individual research. We each came to the next meeting with ideas on how to combat depression. After a vote, we chose aromatherapy as our solution.
Depression is a common problem for astronauts due to being separated from family and friends, as well as being separated from familiar environments. Research also shows that a lack of familiar scents contributes to depression. Astronauts are given photos, videos, and video communication as methods to combat depression. One space professional that we contacted reported that astronauts said they could mentally smell the things that they saw in photos and on video.
Scientists have discovered that memories evoked by smell are stronger than visual stimuli, and this can be seen in fMRIs.
Depression caused by isolation is a complex issue. Dr. Tanya Harrison, Director of Research for NewSpace Initiative and her colleagues understand this and are currently working to capture scents of Earth for space explorers. After a lot of feedback from professionals and research, we decided to use aromatherapy in a new way, focusing on using familiar scents to evoke positive memories and emotions to help prevent depression.
Our research into the brain structures and olfaction suggests this is not only doable, but it can also be very effective. We have had aromatherapists and an expert in neurology and the olfactory system explain how it all works.
When a scent enters our nasal cavity, it enters the olfactory bulb, which has a direct connection into the limbic system in our brains. The limbic system is the emotional motor system and is responsible for the experience and expression of emotion.
Basically, it tags and ranks incoming scents and their associated emotions before storing them in long-term memory. When a scent is smelled again, the accompanied memories and emotions are evoked. Our research shows that aromatherapy has a physiological effect on the human body, helps achieve a homeostatic balance, and prevents depression.
Our solution is aromatherapy, using two scent kits, medicinal and personalized. Personalized scents are chosen by the astronauts through the process of psychological evaluations, and the medicinal kit would be standardized. The coffee scent you see in both kits act as a scent neutralizer.
We found out a lot of information for our solution through research and professional feedback. For example, astronaut, Chris Hadfield, reports bodily fluid building up in the head, not allowing the sinus cavity to drain, making subtle scents undetectable. So we knew our solution needed to include concentrated scents.
We first used little round containers filled with beeswax, essential oils, shea butter, almond oil, and vitamin E oil. We used 40 drops instead of the regular amount, so it would be more concentrated. The containers were made out of a very fragile plastic and kept breaking with normal handling. This made us realize that we needed to change it to something else. We also got feedback from the Alliance of International Aromatherapists suggesting the use of Personal Nasal Inhalers. The benefits of Personal Nasal Inhalers are:
- Weighs almost half as much.
- Cost is ⅔ of the original design.
- More durable.
- 3 times faster to prepare.
- Takes up slightly less amount of space.
- Less chance of catching fire, because of the flammable surface area, and it’s in a closed environment.
- Can’t float around because of stickies on the bottom.
We have received feedback from several professionals in the space field that have said that they think we are on the right track with aromatherapy. James Van Laak who was involved with the Shuttle Mir program thought that this might work very well if combined with other support therapies. Phillipe Mairet who worked with the Hermes European Space Shuttle program also provided positive feedback.
For a more detailed overview of our research and citations, please click the button below.
A Special Thank You to Our Community and Professionals
• Dr. Tanya Harrison, Director of Research for NewSpace Initiative, Arizona State University
• Dr. Richard Gerkin, Asst. Research Professor, Arizona State University
• Karlene Stefanakos, The Speech Team, Inc.
• Amy Reilly, Wellness Advocate for doTERRA
• Carol Scheidel, Alliance of International Aromatherapists
• Alliance for the Pursuit of Knowledge, Inc.
• Bryan Hauger, Plastics Consultant
• James Van Laak, Deputy Director of the Shuttle-Mir Program
• Philippe Mairet, Hermes European Space Shuttle Project Engineer