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The madness of offering depressed astronauts a computerized shrink

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute is working on getting computers to offer astronauts depression therapy.

Is being an astronaut really all that much fun?

You get otherworldly for a while, but, as some children on vacation will tell you, floating can get old very quickly.

While a few astronauts become heroes, some seem to come back to earth and never come back to earth. Their behavior becomes eccentric. Their utterances become bizarre. Some even claim they have seen aliens.

A question worth asking is whether many of these astronauts were already a bit weird before they floated off into space. And I'm not even including the ones who wear diapers whenever they slip into a jealous rage.

Now NASA has had a brainwave that it hopes will send soothing waves through astronauts' brains.

The idea, sponsored by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, is to have a therapist on video inside the spaceship. No, not a live therapist available 24 hours a day for a cut-price fee. Instead, this is recorded video with voice, perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the one at your local energy provider that tells you "por Espanol oprima ocho".

The presumably soothing recorded voice will be clever enough to help astronauts work out what is making them miserable, employing a technique called problem-solving treatment.

Dear Computer, I only became an astronaut because I thought it would please my Mommy. CC Dullhunk

As I understand it, the astronaut types into his computer: "I just don't know what the meaning of it all is" and the computer will ask useful questions such as "Meaning? What do you mean?"

This will help the astronaut, in absolute privacy, come to terms with him (or her) self and his (or her) negative state of mind.

I am all for helping astronauts. Given that space missions will increase in length as we explore our galaxy of water-bearing planets, it will take a peculiarly robust mind and body to tolerate the sheer inhuman stress of the task.

Which is why a digitally shrunk shrink is an extremely worrisome idea. I know there are advertisers who claim that the computer is personal again. But no computer can be quite personal enough.

No, it seems quite clear that NASA should provide a personal shrink (and perhaps masseur, too) in the spacecraft for every long-haul astronaut. Yes, it would increase the numbers on the trip. But it would also increase the possibility of positive human interaction leading to a life-affirming atmosphere beyond the atmosphere.

America has long been able to prove that constant and open-hearted conversation with a stranger is the way to truly lasting and holistic mental health.

And there surely must be a plethora of psychologists, especially given these recessionary times, who would be prepared, in the interests of scientific progress and a fabulously healthy fee, to be an astronaut's little mental helper in his (or her) and our quest for the ultimate discovery.

Machines can't do everything. Really they can't.

How can anyone, let alone an astronaut, possibly reveal the dream about the goat, the golf club, Copacabana Beach, Anne Hathaway, Alan Greenspan, Hillary Clinton, Ari from Entourage, several of the cast from 300 and an open-top Chrysler Sebring to a mere computer?

In any case, there is one other little problem. Because of privacy issues, no one will know which astronauts used the computer shrink and which didn't.

Please forgive me, this is making me miserable. I need to lie down now.