Over the last 40 hours we have gotten two back-to-back snow storms yielding about 24 inches of snow in my yard. My wife and I have basically been stuck in the house for two days. (well, technically not stuck as I have a 4-wheel drive pickup I drive in the winter when the Tesla is packed away….I’ll take my Rivian NOW please!)
I’ll be honest. We have been getting antsy. I missed the gym workout yesterday (switched to today) and it was hard to concentrate on work at times. The need to get out of the house was an unspoken vibe.
It occurred to me at one point this is probably as close to feeling like a Martian that I will get. I’m OK with that….
Of course there is one HUGE difference. I can put on boots, a coat, gloves and go outside. For Martians, in transit or on Mars, there is no escape. Just knowing there was the ability to escape the house or that the storm would be over was a balm for my itchy need to get out.
On Mars, even going outside is still “inside” (spacesuit) as you can imagine. But that is only part of the psychological picture.
The big difference is having options.
Cabin fever or Martian fever are two very similar but VERY different psychological experiences. The difference lies not only in the feeling of confinement but also in the conscious or unconscious knowledge that the condition is temporary (or not). We focus much on the confinement aspect of Martian living but tend to overlook the other factor that accelerates the metnal decline, options.
Options are the reason we watch the weather so much during a storm. Our subconscious needs the facts to stay calm, namely the impact of the storm itself, AND the knowledge of when life will return to normal, aka when the confinement will end.
So what is the Anti-confinement Confinement?
We all marvel at the concept of a holodeck in Star Trek but in many ways this “trick of the light” might be the only way to keep Martians sane. If you have ever worn a set of VR goggles you can experience this relief. I have experimented with the psychological effects of VR environments myself on cramped, long flights. Putting on the VR goggles with wide open spaces portrayed has a noticeable effect on the brains perception of confinement.
Living on Mars, like cabin fever, will require a two-part solution, one to deal with the physical confinement and the second to address the subconscious effects of the lack of options. Broader spaces may tamp down the feeling of confinement but tricking the brain into thinking there are options is the key to long term mental health and our ability to truly colonize other planets.