WORTH REPEATING: Boredom, The Final Frontier

NEW YORK TIMES: Besides multistage rockets to propel a spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, years of planning and precise calculations and massive amounts of fuel, traveling the tens of millions of miles to Mars will take a tremendous amount of time. With current technology, the journey takes more than eight months each way. Which means that astronauts will get bored. In fact, a number of scientists say that — of all things — boredom is one of the biggest threats to a manned Mars mission, despite the thrill inherent in visiting another planet. And so, attention is being paid to the effects of boredom at HI-SEAS, and on the International Space Station. But because of the causes of chronic boredom, scientists say, research facilities in Antarctica might actually provide a better simulation of the stress of a journey to Mars. Most living things constantly seek out sensory stimulation — new smells, tastes, sights, sounds or experiences. Even single-celled amoebas will move to investigate new sources of light or heat, says Sheryl Bishop, who studies human performance in extreme environments at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Animals deprived of naturalistic environments and the mental stimulation that come with them can fall into repetitive, harmful patterns of behavior. Anybody of a certain age will remember zoos full of manically pacing tigers, bears gnawing on their metal cages and birds that groomed themselves bald — all a result, we now know, of their rather unstimulating lifestyles. Human boredom isn’t quite as well understood, says James Danckert, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. MORE