Space at a premium for European unity test

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN unity will be put to a practical test later this year when people of different nationalities will be locked up together for 60 days in a sealed chamber to see how they get on.

Ten volunteers - six men and four women - are on the shortlist for an experiment to study the psychological problems related to living in a confined space with people from other cultural backgrounds.

The experiment is part of the European Space Agency's plan to train its own astronauts. A precondition of the study is that the volunteers should be from a number of different countries, said Geir Elgjo, the Norwegian medical researcher in charge.

Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Sweden and Canada (which is deemed part of Europe because it is a member of the space agency) are represented. Denmark, however, failed to make the shortlist.

As well as regular physical examinations, the volunteers will be subjected to a battery of psychological tests to examine performance under stress and fatigue and their 'changes in attitude to personal territory'.

Four of the volunteers - three men and a woman - will be selected to spend eight weeks isolated in a chamber measuring about 10m (10yd) by 3.5m to imitate the living quarters of a future European space station. The other six will act as 'ground support' staff or stand-by crew.

The volunteers will wear the sort of garments used inside a space station, but not the hermetically sealed suits necessary for space walks. Both sexes will share the same sanitary facilities and will be observed for their skills in 'trash management'.

The study will take place at the German Aerospace Research Establishment's Institute of Aerospace Medicine at Cologne.

'The experiment will tell us a lot about how performance varies as time goes on,' Dr Elgjo said, adding that if any of the crew becomes psychotic during confinement, the experiment will be abandoned.

'One of the criteria is that all the crew members come from different countries. It teaches how to assimilate from different backgrounds and cultural influences.'