It’s fairly common knowledge that there are numerous challenges and tests every astronaut must pass before proving that they’re worthy of donning that famous white suit and interlocking helmet. However, while the travails of those who choose space travel as their primary occupation are well known, the effects that the career choice can have on the families of those intrepid cosmic explorers is often left behind in their jet stream. And yet, the lack of attention hardly disqualifies the adversity that any astronaut’s family must face throughout the course of their spacefarer’s career.
If you’ve ever wondered just how big of an effect this can have, here are some of the many ways that space travel impacts the families as they watch their loved ones head off into the dark reaches of the cosmos.
The way we perceive our circumstances can play a huge role in our overall health. That’s why addressing the mental side of things can be a critical element for any astronauts planning on spending extended amounts of time alone or with few companions in a constricted space. There are, after all, many natural challenges to living in space. From claustrophobia and adjusting to the experience of little to no gravity to things like boredom and isolation, one’s attitude and mental health are key battlefields for an astronaut.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that the mental stress of separation also affects their families. Astronauts are often carefully selected from those who have clearly demonstrated their ability to hold up under pressure. Their families, on the other hand, aren’t chosen via such qualifications. That’s why it’s critical that all of their family members, especially children, are given the tools to emotionally process the separations and dangers that come with their loved one’s time in space.
Another factor that a family with a member in space must keep in mind is the importance of communicating their needs and concerns. When an astronaut is in space, the entire time they’re gone, along with both the lead-up beforehand and the debriefing time afterward, can be a bit of an overwhelming experience.
As with any stressful, emotionally exhausting scenario, if those under stress don’t learn proper ways to communicate their feelings and their concerns, it can be detrimental to their entire family dynamic. This is an especially important skill for astronauts’ children to learn, as their underdeveloped and immature emotions can exacerbate the many fears and concerns that they share with their parents.
In the current scope of space travel, many astronauts have been able to use technology like video chatting in order to maintain contact with their families. Of course, once trips begin to probe deeper into space — say, a Mars mission for example — the ability to communicate on a regular basis will become a bit more difficult.
However, even in these scenarios, there are still countless possibilities that can provide ways for astronauts to send messages back home. From texts and emails to pre-recorded messages, spacefarers should still have no problem reaching out to their loved ones as the distances become greater. As an example of how the current forms of communication look, take a gander at astronaut Karen Nyberg reporting from the International Space Station. A minute and a half into the interview she addresses the issue of being away from her 3-year-old son and how she is able to still maintain communication with him on a daily basis.
Another excellent strategy to help keep that loving, family bond as tight as possible is for astronauts to take the time to create thoughtful, caring ways to be remembered during their absence. Pre-recorded messages, either of themselves reading books or singing their kids’ favorite bedtime songs, can be a great way to do this. Another option is to take a variety of photos of the family, from formal portraits to candid shots, and create matching memory books for the astronaut in space and the family on the ground.
The point isn’t the gift itself as much as the power of a purposeful attempt to go above and beyond to maintain that special spark of familial love when work takes an astronaut away for an extended period of time. The effort to connect won’t go unnoticed.
Space exploration is at the tip of everyone’s tongues these days. And why not? With technology constantly developing at breakneck speeds, the vision of genuinely exploring space becomes more realistic every day.
However, while it’s easy to get excited every time a manned mission heads off into the inky blackness above, let’s make sure that we take the time to remember those who have been left in their wake, struggling with the fears and challenges that are the natural consequences of being a part of an astronaut’s earth-bound family.
As a final note, if you’re interested in other space-life related topics, you may want to check out this article on What To Take Care Of Before You Head Into Space. After all, recreational space travel could have us all considering the repercussions of space travel on our familial affairs before long.