Space Psychology

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Space Psychology


the branch of psychology that investigates the influence of the special conditions and factors of space flight on the psychological aspects of the activities of astronauts.

Experimental studies related to the selection and training of astronauts and the enhancement of their efficiency constitute the main concern of space psychology. Space psychologists formulate recommendations for the optimal regimes of physical and mental work and rest for astronauts. The field is closely associated with engineering psychology.

The work of astronauts is characterized by a number of unusual features: it is practically continuous; the order of work is greatly regimented; the amount of time allocated to work operations is strictly limited; and the evaluation of the useful results of the work is indirect (automatic devices being hooked into intellectual and executive processes). Space flight itself involves special factors, such as weightlessness and acceleration, and it involves the presence of a “novelty” factor, associated with the considerable emotional load and nervous and mental strain.

These and certain other factors of space flight give rise to new interrelations between perceived information and operational activity, causing tension that requires considerable mental and muscular-tonic adaptations to overcome. Such, for example, are the disruptions with weightlessness of the spontaneous analyzer activities, inducing in some individuals spatial disorientation, to the point of total impairment of correct perception of the outside world and derangement of the “body scheme” (the reflection in consciousness of the characteristics and modes of functioning of both the separate parts and organs of the body and the body as a whole). Experience has shown that a new functional analyzer scheme, adaptated to the conditions of space flight, can be developed and fixed only by special training methods. Space psychology also studies the factors that create psychological stress, such as limited quarters (”isolation syndrome”) and the resultant hypodynamia, the restriction of sensory (signal) information, and monotony.

Space psychology devises special experimental methods to detect and mobilize the body’s functional resources and to promote its adaptation to diverse factors of space flight. In the selection process, considerable importance is attached to psychological symptoms usually expressed by the notions of suspiciousness and suggestibility. Thus, the psychological training program for astronauts includes measures aimed at overcoming or reducing anxiety, lack of confidence, and uneasiness over the outcome of a flight.

Of particular importance in space psychology are the interaction of the astronauts and the collective organization of their work and rest schedules. It is important to be able to predict effective performance by the crew and to predict their interrelations and communication. The creation of team spirit is also important.

The rapid development of space psychology is contributing to advances in the applied research of many other branches of psychology, especially in studies of the mobilization of psychophysiological reserves of those whose occupational circumstances resemble the conditions prevailing during space flight.


Geratewohl, S. Psikhologiia cheloveka ν samolete. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from German.)
Pervye kosmicheskie polety cheloveka. Moscow, 1962. (Collection of articles.)
Gagarin, Iu., and V. Lebedev. Psikhologiia i kosmos. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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de la Torre, professor at the University of Cadiz and participant in previous projects such as Mars 500 or space psychology topical team project financed by the European Space Agency.