Colonists in Off-World Simulations Show Independence

Colonists living in a pair of off-world simulations designed to mimic life on Mars and other potentially habitable environments reduced their communication frequency with mission control over time, signaling a growing independence from Earth. This reduction in total communications also resulted in shorter conversation length per call, seemingly indicating the same phenomenon. Such results appear to confirm those found by the European Space Agency (ESA) in their MARS-500 simulation, and also seem to indicate that people who colonize off-world environments may ultimately move toward independence from Earth.


Human history has consistently shown that colonists typically move away from the governance of their host countries, with many such instances like the American Revolutionary War of the late 18th century resulting in colonial wars. This issue has long been a concern for theoretical human colonists who may live on the Moon, Mars, or elsewhere beyond our own little planet.

According to the study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, this type of disconnect between home and colony “may lead to resistance of crew members to the recommendations of the mission control and predominance of their decision-making based on their knowledge, values, and priorities.” 

In short, just like those pesky American settlers who decided to run their own show, people living in these conditions may ultimately decide home is where they live, and not where their ancestors came from.


To evaluate this phenomenon, which had previously been revealed in the MARS-500 mission, Russian officials conducted a pair of studies in 2017 and 2019. Dubbed SIRIUS, (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) the two off-world colony simulations ran for 17 days and four months respectively, and used delayed communications and other simulated aspects to mimic the length of time needed for communication between mission control and a theoretical Mars colony. The crews were also made up of differing ages, ethnicities and other varied backgrounds to simulate an international human colony.

As expected, the crews reduced their communications over time, instead preferring to solve issues locally. Also, the length of time in the communications that did occur similarly reduced over time, also indicating less interest in input from mission control.

For example, researchers on SIRIUS-19 recorded 320 audio conversations between controllers and colonists during the first 10 days. In contrast, this total was just 34 conversations over the last 10 days of the same mission, a nearly 90% drop.

“The crews in such missions tend to reduce their communication with mission control during isolation, sharing their needs and problems less and less,” said study author Dr. Dmitry Shved, of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Aviation Institute in a press release announcing the study’s results. “The rare bursts of contacts were seen during important mission events (e.g. landing simulation). Also, there was a convergence of communication styles of all SIRIUS crew members, and an increase in crew cohesion in the course of their mission. This happened even though the crew composition was diverse by gender and also cultural background, with pronounced individual differences.”


“Our findings show that in autonomous conditions, the crews undergo psychological ‘autonomization’,” concluded Shved, “becoming less dependent on mission control. Also, the crews in such conditions tend to increase their cohesion when crew members become closer and more similar to each other, despite their personal, cultural, and other differences.”

In the end, the research can be useful for mission planning, but may also simply indicate an aspect of human nature proven throughout history. Given enough time, a group of individuals isolated from their homeland and forced to survive on their own will ultimately trend toward independence.

“The promising part is that the crews seem to become more autonomous and independent from Earth,” concluded Shved. “The increasing crew cohesion should also help them in dealing with various problems during their mission.”

Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction