Dec 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:51 PM EST

What If Astronauts “Lose It” in Space?

Apr 30, 2015 01:03 AM EDT


We all know that being an astronaut is no easy task, that is why NASA has one of the most elaborate and difficult psychological tests of any organization on the planet.  Despite all the astronauts currently zooming through space have passed these tests, there is always a risk that one might suffer a psychological breakdown while orbiting high above the Earth.  If this happens, what are the fellow astronauts supposed to do about it?

While it was never released to the public, it turns out NASA had a plan all along that addressed the potential of astronauts breaking down in space.  In 2007, the Associated Press discovered NASA's plan, after an instance of one astronaut becoming homicidal toward another person after returning from a mission in space.

So what are other crew members supposed to do if their comrade goes crazy?  According to the plans, the crew members of a person exhibiting homicidal or suicidal behavior must carry out a three part procedure designed to maintain the safety of both the person and the rest of the crew. 

First, they must bind the hands and feet of the person suffering from a breakdown using duct tape to make sure everyone remains safe at all times.  Then the person is to be tied down using a bungie cord and, if necessary, injected with tranquilizers. 

Those who are restraining the person are instructed to communicate their actions to the person reassuring them and explaining their reasoning.  Once the person has been properly restrained and calmed, the astronauts must contact ground control to discuss whether a shuttle needs to be returned to Earth or if an astronaut should be removed from the International Space Station and returned safely back to Earth.

In case this happens, the first aid kit on the ISS is stocked with a number of medicines to help alleviate illnesses and psychological stresses.  These medicines include anti-depressants, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medication, and anti-psychotics.  The shuttles, when they were still running, were equipped with similar medications with the exception of anti-depressants.

For longer missions aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must speak with psychologists here on Earth twice a month to help maintain their mental health.  While it is good that NASA has prepared for the possibility of someone losing it while in orbit, thankfully there have been no reports of these types of breakdowns happening on missions during the shuttle program or aboard the International Space Station.

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