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Why Tim Peake’s space mission could unearth secrets of depression

After all the drama of the launch, what will Tim Peake actually do during his six long months on the International Space Station?

After seeing the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing with his guitar or Scott Kelly of Nasa doing airborne somersaults, many might wonder if the ISS has a serious point.

The reality is that everyone sent up there faces a very busy timetable which involves managing a range of experiments that make use of the state of weightlessness.

The space station is a giant laboratory and every inhabitant is expected to get involved in the research.

Just by being in space, Tim himself will serve as a lab rat, allowing his body to be monitored in great detail – with 23 different sets of measurements in all.

By the end of his mission, he will be all too familiar with the regular processes of gathering samples of his blood and urine. Space research is not for the squeamish.

 

While on board the International Space Station, Britain’s first official astronaut will be helping researchers at University College London to develop software which can spot signs of boredom or the blues simply by the listening to his speech patterns.

The project, dubbed Vulcan, could help Mission Control spot when crew members are feeling depressed or irritated with colleagues, even when they do not want to admit it.

Astronauts are renowned for their self-controlled, stoic demeanour which allows them to stay calm in a crisis and they must pass a string of psychological and mental health tests before they are considered for missions.

But months cooped-up on board a station which is no bigger than a six roomed house can take its toll on mental well-being, and doctors on Earth are keen to find a way to spot the first signs of stress and anxiety.