Grad Story #39


Grad Story #39



Travis Nelson
Space Studies, MS




What is your hometown and background?

I'm originally from and grew up in Devils Lake, North Dakota.  I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology here at the University of North Dakota and took as many space-orientated classes as possible during that time.  After I graduated, I decided to bring the fields of space and psychology together by pursing the Master of Science in Space Studies with a human factors emphasis.

What brought you to the University of North Dakota?

I have always enjoyed the Grand Forks area, the School of Aerospace Sciences, UND athletics and knew the university was a top choice in the state for many disciplines. All of those reasons made my decision to enroll here relatively easy. Once I arrived, I became involved in the psychology department and found my place in the field of experimental psychology and science in general.

What first sparked your interest in space? 

I guess you could say that I have been a space enthusiast most of my life. When I was probably four years old my parents bought me my first NASA Lego set, which definitely sparked my interest in space and building models. A planetarium visit in elementary school solidified my interest in the wonders of space and I have enjoyed learning about it ever since.  

You recently presented a poster at the School of Graduate Studies Scholarly Forum, can you elaborate on your research?

My research is concerned with measurement of stress and anxiety of humans during space flight and ground based studies of varying durations. My plan is to develop new countermeasures for mitigating stress and anxiety in extreme space flight conditions.  Whether it will be new types of in-flight psychological counseling, pre-flight counter measures or training protocols, I plan to help make space more habitable for extended periods of time. When I formally began studying human space-flight in the master’s program, it became quickly evident that humans are best suited to live on the Earth. My long term goal is to assist in changing that, hopefully enabling humans to safely go further into the space environment.

My hypothesis for the poster presentation displayed at the Scholarly Forum focused on the latter half of human spaceflight missions and how that timeframe is increasingly critical as to how stress and anxiety affects the performance of the astronauts and also how well countermeasures combat that stress and anxiety. My advisor, Dr. Vadim Rygalov from the Space Studies department has proven to be a vital role in my interests during my graduate study and has challenged me to keep moving forward with this research area and several other poster presentations and papers.

I understand you're doing a simulation with the human space flight lab in the fall, can you talk about what data you're looking to collect?

For the last four years, a lot of work from many other students and professionals has resulted in the construction of a lunar habitat, an electric rover and numerous space suits to be used in one sealed system. Last fall, students got the opportunity to do a ten day closed simulation utilizing those components.  I was fortunate enough to be mission commander of that simulation and it was an excellent experience for my own research interests as well as testing the systems for the department. For ten consecutive days we lived inside the habitat and were only able to leave for a few hours per day for extravehicular activity (EVA) and remained in the rover or inside a space suit. It was during that mission that I became interested in researching how humans behave and reacted during spaceflight situations where they are isolated and confined in an extreme environment.  That experience lead into my idea to collect data in a few areas for the 30-day mission this coming fall. At this time I plan to expand my research on stress and anxiety data collection and develop countermeasures for this unique mission.

This degree is quite broad and attracts students who are doing diverse research.  I imagine you learn as much from your peers as your professors.

I do learn quite a lot from fellow students in the program. Since we all have different educational backgrounds, it is a very interesting and diverse learning environment.

Most students spend a significant time working together so it is a great opportunity to learn from each other's influence and knowledge.  The professors all have a lot of knowledge to transfer to the students and this is evident from the success and recognition of the department as a whole. The encouragement that I receive from both my academic advisor and mentor, Dr. Rygalov, and my graduate research assistantship supervisor, Dr. de Leon, has been critical to my success in the human factors emphasis and has enriched the entire experience.

What is your best advice for a graduate student who is looking to Space Studies?

My advice to potential students is that no matter what your educational background is, there is likely a place for you in the department if you have a vested interest in space.  The Space Studies department has a numerous range of specializations ranging from engineering, observational astronomy, law, policy, planetary science and human factors. This makes the department a good choice for students with a variety of backgrounds where they can complete research and study an area of space that they are personally interested in. 

What would you like to do with your degree in space studies?

After graduation next spring, I plan to move on to employment within NASA or complete a doctoral program.  I hope to be involved with a future mission that brings humans back to the moon or other areas of space beyond low earth orbit, such as an asteroid or Mars. Either way, I would like to be affiliated with the further advancement of humans in the space environment.  



Susan Caraher


Bridget Brooks, Travis Nelson


School of Graduate Studies

Date Created

8 May, 2014




Susan Caraher, “Grad Story #39,” Grad Stories, accessed December 8, 2019,