Proximity to nature is essential to human health, although scientists are not exactly sure why. However, regular exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and greenery have shown to improve many health conditions. On the other hand, individuals living in regions with limited natural light or where the opportunity to be outdoors is limited often experience higher incidences of depression, as well as other conditions. This need to be near nature poses a concern for the psychological state of future astronauts who will participate in early test flights to Mars. The journey will have them spending close to two years away from Earth (for comparison, the current record for any human is held by Valeri Polyakov, a Russian cosmonaut who spent 14 months, or 437 days, aboard the Mir Space Station).
Dartmouth physician and former astronaut, Jay Buckey is experimenting with the use of virtual reality and its effect on mood and stress levels. These early studies are being conducted at a military station in Alert, Canada nearly 500 miles from the North Pole. There, the harsh climate and limited sunlight lead the inhabitants of the station to stay indoors in confined spaces for extended periods of time. In the study, Buckey and his team sent Oculus Rift headsets to the military station and gave users one of two viewing options. The first is a static, 360 degree view of a countryside location (such as the Irish countryside), and the other option is a simulation of walking through a seaside town in the UK (see video above).
Buckey and his team are looking to see which view participants like best and its effect on their mood and stress levels. If the results are good, the Oculus Rift will be tested in the International Space Station next.
(Source: Popular Science)