With the proposed flight to Mars and its exploration, there is a long stay required by the astronauts under claustrophobic conditions. This has yet unknown consequences for the psychological well-being of the humans involved in such a journey. Could Virtual Reality (VR) systems alleviate some stress of long stays in space, and thus could VR become indispensable for space travel?
The shortest travel to from Earth to Mars using the Hohmann transfer orbit would involve a 9-month travel time, with 500 days at Mars and 9-month return travel back to earth.
Thus, this is significant time (nearly three years) spent in a spaceship under very cramped conditions. The first spaceships and stations on Mars will have very limited living space to bring costs down and make the project viable. In addition, the astronauts will live with the same team members for the entire sojourn in these small spaces. Also, this journey comes with a very significant risk to the life of each crew member.
The effects of all these factors on the mental health of each astronaut are still not fully understood.
But the emergence of powerful immersive VR devices can help in managing the health.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated experience, usually involving a Virtual Reality headset. Some popular VR headsets of today are made by the companies Oculus (Meta) and Vive.
There are some studies that point to the possibility of VR reducing stress (e.g. a study in Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research)
From my own experience with the Oculus Go VR system, I can say that it is great for distracting yourself and feel in a different environment. I especially enjoy immersive videos where you can relax.
Some VR hardware manufacturers even market their models for wellness and relaxation (e.g. Vive Flow)
Helping astronauts with their well-being is especially critical in situations where the astronauts are confined to the same stressful small space day in and day out.
Using the free time of astronauts for pleasurable activities like visiting virtual worlds might contribute to their sanity positively. But more research in this area is needed on how to best design such a system and thus make it indispensable for space travel.