Could TV and movies be the key to keeping astronauts sane in space?

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Mar 26, 2021, 8:00 AM EDT (Updated)

Sure, a lot of folks use DVRs now, but we still use television as a way to track the passage of time — the splashy dramas debut in the fall; the morning shows start the day; etc. So could TV be the trick to keeping astronauts from going nutty on an extended space mission?

It’s still just a theory, but one media psychologist has proposed that a regimented diet of television viewership could help astronauts keep track of time and seasons on an Earth-based schedule while trekking off to Mars and beyond. Jan Van den Bulck, a Professor of Media Psychology at the University of Michigan, has put forth the theory, following up on former studies positing that TV and video games could help ease the effects of cabin fever.

Bulck broke down the pitch with a piece at The Conversation, but here’s the gist: Television has become a cultural event in modern day culture, helping mark the passage of time by watching huge live events as a shared experience, or following hit shows on Sunday (wouldn’t you still want to kick back and watch some Game of Thrones on Sunday night, regardless of whether or not you’re in space?). Bulck noted that television and media can “create and reinforce powerful feelings of community and group cohesion.” Which, yeah — anyone who has ever chatted twists at the water cooler knows that.

There's obviously the logistical tech problems of streaming chunks of video files to a space ship the further away it gets from Earth, but you could still follow this concept with pre-recorded shows and movies loaded on board. Make Friday movie nights, and Tuesday sitcom nights, etc.

Of course, this is all only a very tiny piece of any space travel puzzle, as you’d have to manage everything from exercise time, to free time, to work time, and all the other tasks in-between. But the television concept is certainly one worth taking into account as everyone from SpaceX to NASA are putting together plans for longterm exploration. The psychological well-being is just as important as the technical side when sending folks to space, and it’ll be interesting to see what steps they take to deal with the social and psychological effects of space travel.

Could watching some TV be the key to making it work? Would you still want to find time for bingeing Stranger Things in space? Or the Alien movies? Wait, scratch that. Probably not the Alien movies.

(Via The Conversation)