Social Maintenance and Psychological Support Using Virtual Worlds
In the space exploration domain, limitations in the Deep Space Network and the lack of real-time communication capabilities will impact various aspects of future long duration exploration such as a multi-year mission to Mars. One dimension of interest is the connection between flight crews and their Earth-based social support system, their family, friends, and colleagues. Studies in ground-based analogs of Isolated and Confined Environments (ICE) such as Antarctica have identified sensory deprivation and social monotony as threats to crew psychological well-being. Given the importance of behavioral health to mission success and the extreme conditions of space travel, new methods of maintaining psycho-social health and social connections to support systems are critical. In this paper we explore the use of Virtual Environments (VEs) and Virtual Agents (VAs) as tools to facilitate asynchronous human-human communication, and counteract behavioral health challenges as-sociated with prolonged isolation and deep space exploration.