SEI Analog Environments Study: Adaptation, Collaboration, and Resilience in Extreme Environments

Eirik Hodne 

SEI Analog Environments Study

Project Overview

The way humans engage with space has changed rapidly over the past 60 years, moving from a model built around survival in extreme environments to prolonged stays and routine operations in those same conditions. Recent developments in commercial spaceflight suggest a new model of human interaction with space – one made up of crews of individuals with varying backgrounds, agendas, roles, and expertise. How might we prepare for this near- to mid-term future of large, diverse groups of people living and working in space? By examining the experiences of both new (SEI) researchers and more seasoned explorers during SEI’s arctic analog expedition, we have the opportunity to leverage the experiences of terrestrial extreme environments explorers and residents to envision a more human-centered approach to space.

  • How do people live and work in extreme conditions, and what are strategies and heuristics that we can learn from one environment and apply to another?
  • How does the experience of visiting and working in an extreme environment affect the individual — prior to expedition, during expedition, and upon return from the field?
  • How do different “populations” of people interact in extreme environments? How are these communities defined (e.g. by role, duration spent in environment, familiarity & expertise, or cultural background)?

To examine these questions, we utilize a series of qualitative research methods that can be used to learn from both the SEI expedition team and the broader population of the region to derive insights on topics from environmental design to crew psychology:

  1. A journal study, piloted by the researchers in 2021 during a trial expedition to Svalbard, will be used to examine how the SEI expedition adapts and acclimates to a new extreme environment.
  2. Participants will also be asked to provide responses to a periodic questionnaire to supplement the journals with quantitative data on their perceptions. 
  3. Finally, participants will participate in periodic interviews — before, during, and after the expedition — to provide researchers with the opportunity to probe for context and depth.

These three research instruments will allow us to examine how participants’ perceptions change over time as they adapt and then re-acclimatize after returning to the field. These journals will also allow us to examine, at a small scale, how different people’s reactions to extreme conditions can be, and how that impacts their experiences.

In addition to the journal study of SEI participants, this research aims to utilize the opportunity to accompany the expedition through the following specific research methods: participant observation of SEI research teams as they deploy their research in Svalbard, and on-site interviews with both the SEI team and local participants. These field-specific activities will be further developed through relationship building between the researchers and communities in Svalbard.