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'Virtual Space Station' NASA Software Psychologist

A software program called Virtual Space Station is being developed to provide assistance to astronauts on future space missions. This interactive software suite is intended to address the psychosocial challenges of long-term space travel.

NASA is anticipating that, when the distance from Earth becomes too great for a normal conversation to occur, astronauts may want to have an option for on-the-spot counseling.


(Virtual Space Station screen sample)

For example, if a fellow crewmember makes a critical mistake, how might you choose to deal with the situation? The software models the situation in an interactive way, offering different options and responses that might rationally be made.

The Virtual Space Station software has been developed using input from 13 veteran long-duration NASA astronauts who have flown on the International Space Station, Mir and Skylab. The system is being evaluated in a series of clinical trials; it has already been used in Antarctica.

"Behavioral health problems can interfere with the success of the mission, especially on long-duration space flights like missions to the International Space Station, the moon and Mars. These self-guided software tools will provide private and immediate access to treatments even though the patient may be many miles from Earth," said Psychologist James Carter, PhD, one of the program's developers.

Science fiction fans are long familiar with these efforts to create a "software therapist" or a robot psychologist. An early example is the machine psychologist from James Blish's 1957 novel Cities in Flight. This is probably the closest to a prediction, since it was used on long space flights, even though there were plenty of other people around.

More often, the situation takes a more humorous turn. Consider the Rex Regenerator Mechanotherapist from Robert Sheckley's 1956 story Bad Medicine.

"That, sir, is the Rex Regenerator, built by General Motors. Isn't it handsome? It can go with any decor and opens up into a well-stocked bar. Your friends, family, loved ones need never know--"

"Will it cure a homicidal urge?" Caswell asked. "A strong one?"

"Absolutely. Don't confuse this with the little ten amp neurosis models. This is a hefty, heavy-duty, twenty-five amp machine for a really deep-rooted major condition."
(Read more about the Rex Regenerator Mechanotherapist)

Other popular examples include Dr. Smile from Philip K. Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Sigfrid von Shrink from Frederik Pohl's novel Gateway.

NASA might also want to consider the MindMentor Computer-Based Psychotherapy, an automated computer-based therapy tool.

From Self-help software to soothe stressed astronauts and Psychologists show new ways to deal with health challenges in space; via Slashdot.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/26/2008)

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