“The Longest Goodbye”

When thinking of traveling into space, the dangers that you likely picture are clear: rocket malfunctions, exposure to radiation, mistakes that occur as a result of human error, and the frightening prospect of being far away from our home planet. Those who choose to pursue a career as an astronaut have a level of bravery and fearlessness that most of us could never imagine possessing ourselves. But what about the unspoken mental health dangers?

Director Ido Mizrahy explores the effects of these prolonged periods of extreme isolation and confinement in “The Longest Goodbye,” a documentary that shines a light on the very real problem facing astronauts and their families back on Earth. By interviewing NASA professionals, psychologists, and loved ones, the film shows the emotional and mental toll that a months-long mission to outer space can take on everyone involved.

With a future manned mission to Mars in the works, NASA is busy crafting solutions to combat loneliness and ease the pressure that results from the lack of privacy for the astronauts that will be part of the 3 year assignment. With mission control always listening, it can be detrimental to the mental health of the men and women in space, especially when combined with the stress of knowing people back on Earth are watching their every move. One of the more interesting proposals is the creation of an AI crew member named CIMON, a robot companion that can engage in private conversations when a crew member needs someone to talk to. When CIMON is utilized, an astronaut can rest assured that HQ won’t be watching or listening in. It’s almost like having a personal therapist with you on the space station or at least a friend you can talk to.

Mizrahy maintains a focused theme in his film, interviewing astronauts and their families about the stressful realities that they face when it’s time for a new mission. It’s very effective to hear their stories in their own words, often raising issues that most of us have never thought about before. One subject addresses the “invisible wall between NASA and the families,” which is especially detrimental when something goes wrong in space. If ABC Nightly News covers a problem with a mission, their loved ones back on Earth get the news at the same time as the rest of the general public. It’s a scenario that you’d never think about, but it’s understandable how difficult something like that would be.

Another interesting piece of information raised in the film is the very real problem of astronauts either resisting the idea of returning home or experiencing a great difficulty in readjusting to their normal lives. With so many pressures that push their mental well-being to the breaking point, it’s also an astonishing fact that it wasn’t until 1994 that NASA finally developed a psych unit to deal with these issues.

“The Longest Goodbye” features a lot of speculation and “what if?” scenarios, and it’s frustrating to hear the countless hypothetical situations but no real solutions. Mizrahy makes the same points repeatedly, but still raises a lot of interesting questions. It’s a documentary that’s educational, will make you see things in a different light, and will give you a newfound respect for astronauts around the world.

By: Louisa Moore

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