I’ve learned a lot in my time in the habitat and with just a few short weeks left in the mission, I am anxious to hold on to all the memories and lessons when I head home. I came into the analogue mission hoping to fulfill some of my personal dreams: to live like an astronaut might on Mars, challenge myself to use fewer resources and find out what I’m mentally made of after 8 months in isolation. I’ve certainly achieved these. But I’ve also learned a smattering about geology and our local volcanic history, how to make mozzarella from scratch and how to care for a composting toilet. I hope I only have to use SOME of these skills in the future.
The special advantage of an isolation mission, though, is the mental and emotional learning a person can do. Short of going on a spiritual journey or joining a monastery, it’s unusual for a person to have so much time to self-evaluate away from the noise of modern life. I certainly learned a lot more about myself and how I deal with difficult situations. I have developed a few strengths for working in a team and dealing with stress, but I’ve also identified my shortcomings in these areas, too. My mother gave me a very important piece of advice near the beginning of the mission that I always keep in my mind: “Remember to be gentle with yourself, so that you can be gentle with others.” As she says, we are all a work in progress. Too often I think we forget to focus on practicing kindness as a skill, and I’ve found it’s actually a critical one to have in our mission.
We’ve discussed as a crew the idea that “in here it’s easy, but out there is the real challenge.” As a crew, we expect ourselves to work together and figure out how to thrive. In the mission, we have a special chance to work with other people as dedicated as we are to the success of the group, even when things get hard and even when we’ve been wronged. When we return to our schools and our jobs in a few weeks, we will be working in groups where it’s just as important to find cohesion as it has been in our crew. Unfortunately, our colleagues may not have the dedication or understanding of how to foster it. We focus a lot in our mission about furthering space research and helping humans reach other planets, but I think we also have an opportunity to help humans reach each other.