Astronauts Share Advice on How to Handle Isolation and Loneliness

Tom Marshburn in spaceship with Davidson t-shirt on

Tom Marshburn '82

Days on end spent with the same people in a confined space. No access to the things that once made your daily routine, well, routine.

Communicating with your family through a laptop screen that distorts familiar conversational rhythm and frequently ends unexpectedly. Sound familiar? Astronauts are some of the best-equipped people on the planet to deal with the isolation that is now all too familiar.

They have a message for the rest of us: You can make isolation more bearable. NASA Astronaut and Davidson alumnus Tom Marshburn ’82 joined Physics Professor Kristen Thompson and members of the college community for a virtual presentation and question-and-answer session today. The topic? Coping with isolation and loneliness.

Marshburn, a medical doctor and veteran of two International Space Station missions and four spacewalks, shared insights from his NASA work on a project designed to help astronauts on long duration missions. That work has much broader relevance these days.

In this video message to the college, Marshburn and colleagues share their tips for dealing with isolation. Here are a few:

  1. Leadership is particularly critical in difficult times, and it’s built on the relationships you have with your team, or family. Effective leaders aren’t interested in power and status but see their role as a privilege, and effective leaders take care of their people. 
  2. You need to know how to communicate your stuff with your people. Get to know one another’s communication style so you can communicate effectively.
  3. Self-care isn’t selfish. You have to be the best version of yourself in order to be an effective teammate. This is especially vital in times of stress. Be intentional about your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
  4. Be mindful about how your actions and words affect those around you. And take the time to talk about how we can each do better before conflicts arise.


  • April 23, 2020