Virtual Reality Research Supports Expeditions in Antarctica, Future Explorations in Space

Australia’s Antarctic stations are among the most isolated, confined, and extreme places on earth.

That makes them ideal sites to conduct research on how tools can help expedition teams—which must cope with isolation and confinement for up to nine months of the year—perform better in extreme environments like Antarctica or in space.


Investigators at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the Australian Antarctic Division are collaborating on a project to do just that. Expeditioners working at the Mawson and Davis research sites are testing a virtual reality tool-kit (which immerses them in different natural settings) as well as a suite of web-based psychosocial support programs developed collaboratively with Dartmouth—with the goal of enhancing their well-being and behavioral health.

“Being in an isolated, confined environment with a limited number of people is challenging for anybody, and it can lead to a number of psychosocial problems,” says astronaut and physician Jay Buckey, Jr., MD, a professor of medicine at Geisel, who hopes that what is learned from the project can help inform future space missions, such as those to Mars.

“These are tools that people can use either on their own or with the help of somebody else to improve their skills at stress management, to get better at conflict resolution, or to treat depression,” says Buckey. “The next steps will be to get the results from this current winter-over and see how things are going. Then we’ll see if we can optimize the program for the next season.”