This was a paper I wrote for fun simulating a psychologists newly released study at the dawn of widespread, low-cost Kerbal exploration. Enjoy, and all input is appreciated.
The Psychology of Kerbals in Isolated Environments
For generations, Kerbals have long looked at the skies and wondered if they would ever be able to explore the seemingly endless expanses of space. Now, in the thirteenth decade of Kerbal-kind, exploration is becoming a reality for the everyday Kerbal. However, the aerospace technology that makes space affordable for Kerbals has been developed far beyond the exploration of a Kerbal’s emotional and mental health while traveling for long periods of time through a potentially lethal environment. Through my years of research in these neglected fields, including self-experimentation, I have determined the best environments for Kerbals to not only survive and perform adequately during long missions, but rather thrive in the vacuum of space we all adore so much.
A common way to reduce the cost of a manned mission would be to reduce both the crew count and capsule size (this was an original tactic used by both Kussians and Kermaricans to severely reduce costs of missions). However, despite the obvious cost benefits of such reductions, the drawbacks become much more prevalent after time. For instance, imagine a Kerbal pioneer from half a century ago, ready to explore the depths of the cosmos. He has visions of huge starships, incredible adventures, and awe-inspiring landscapes everywhere. His excitement is further fueled by his assignment to Duna I, the first ever manned mission exploring Duna. The Kerbal arrives at the Space Center weeks before the launch, expecting to see a giant, space-age starship fashioned with all the newest commodities for Kerbal comfort on such a long journey. He is shocked to see a small, minimalistic capsule with the cheapest possible solar panel technology, communications equipment, and instrumentation. The propulsion method is not exotic, creative, or innovative in any way; just a traditional LF+O rocket with staging. He pushes his dismay aside however, hoping his long explorations on the surface will more than make up for finite discomfort.
Once the mission has launched, and he has been in transit for a half month, the boredom-driven insanity begins to set in. Without proper social interactions, he begins to act abnormally, muttering about Space Krakens to Mission Control. Despite the best efforts of Mission Control to convince him to do otherwise, the Kerbal accidentally kills himself when he hallucinates and thinks he is flying through Kerbin’s atmosphere and the parachutes on his craft failed, prompting him to leave the capsule without a spacesuit. Obviously this situation has never been encountered, as the only manned interplanetary or long-duration missions have had a minimum crew of three. The situation is not impossible, nor improbable, thus a sole crew member situation is avoided for any missions longer than 5 days. The opposite situation has potential to be a bad situation as well- should a Kerbal be sent on a mission with 31 other Kerbals without proper faculties to support everyone, the overpopulated craft could cause the Kerbal to either feel insignificant and uncomfortable or insane and paranoid towards the others.
Therefore, a perfect number of Kerbals must be determined for the future of Kerbal spaceflight. While that exact number could vary depending on the mission length, specific crew members’ personalities, and mission nature, six Kerbals on any given mission tends to operate well. As mentioned previously, I have determined this through extensive experimentation (isolating myself and other volunteers in a mission environment), and here is my theory for the reason this could be optimum. In a traditional small group of friends, three persons all have an extremely close relation to each other, with variation. A six-crew mission allows this pattern to reveal itself- in a traditional mission where roles of crew members vary; there will tend to be a natural grouping of two sets of three Kerbals with similar jobs, with alternation between groups as the mission continues. Furthermore, these Kerbals have the ability to emotionally sustain each other should relations go sour between two Kerbals; the remaining four Kerbals offer potential interaction to both Kerbals who dislike each other.
To conclude, Kerbalkind is currently experiencing a drastic growth in low-cost space travel for any interested Kerbal. Before any Kerbal spends his Funds and heads out into the vast expanse, he should be willing to consider joining up with a crew of five others to better explore and thrive together. The planets and stars are out there for anyone to explore; let’s do it right.