Improving human factor research

This sobering assessment highlights what this writer has already reported in Chapters 2 and 3. NASA has begun to address some of these issues by expanding research in human factors, especially functional esthetics, as well as in life sciences, especially with reference to life support systems for the Space Station [11]. The prospect of building a Moonbase within a dozen years has prompted some physicians, such as Ron Schaefer, to examine future medical care for lunar dwellers. With proper selection and effective paramedic services, Dr. Schaefer feels that explorers' illness and accidents can be coped with adequately for up to six months' stay. Beyond that timespan, he is concerned about the treatment of acute illness, severe injuries, and chronic conditions. Schaefer anticipates problems on the lunar surface related to bone demineralization, cardiovascular deconditioning, trauma, decompression sickness, and radiation poisoning. Obviously, the performance of lunar workers would deteriorate with any such disabilities. Thus, ongoing orbital research on the physiological effects of microgravity, as illustrated in Exhibit 62, provides significant insights for future long-duration missions.

In preparation for living and working on the future space station and bases, it is wise to listen to those who have actually been in orbit. In the past, flight surgeon W. K. Douglas [12], for example, interviewed ten astronauts on their spaceflight performance. Their comments confirm somewhat the validity of the above observations. Furthermore, they provided this McDonnell-Douglas researcher with these recommendations for operational changes [12];

(1) spaceflights have been constructed by NASA so that everything is dictated by checklists, which take away one's ability to think;

(2) a workday of 14 or 15 hours in space leads to inefficiency and mistakes;

(3) space station design should take advantage of a real and unique environment, such as delta temperature and pressure;

(4) the suit used for extravehicular activity (EVA) should be better designed and have more provisions (e.g., from honey water to a toolkit);

(5) crew shifts should allow for group sleep, exercise, and play, as well as permit work occasionally on off-duty time;

(6) zero-g environment can be optimized by pre-departure training and conditioning, so that space sickness and other problems can be eliminated or limited.

5.2.2 Learning from spacefarers

It is useful to seek feedback on experinces from those who have worked in orbit when designing space deployment systems, as will be discussed in Chapter 6. It also demonstrates the importance of the above model proposed by A. A. Harrison, which utilizes the dynamic interplaying forces of person, task, and environment as a means for maximizing performance whether on space platform or at a Moon/Mars base.

Hall [6] is also concerned about the amount of stress which human operators in space can handle, and urges more research on "cognitive ergonomics" or mental workload assessment and its effects on human-machine systems , especially when there is overload (see Section 5.7). Spacefarers will be extremely vulnerable to disruptive internal and external forces; stress may be reduced when crews can control and adapt technology to meet contingencies. Within the living systems of an orbiting station, for instance, the behavior of the individual can affect group performance, contributing to either mission success or mission failure. Since open or living systems methodology is more holistic, its advocates hypothesize that it can contribute to the control of stress in space habitats and enhance human performance by diagnosing system pathologies which lead to inefficiencies and errors (see Chapter 3). In the decades ahead as we get into long-duration spaceflight, it is also vital that surveys be made of such spacefarers, so that we may improve pre-departure orientation and training for extended habitality aloft.

Exhibit 62. On-orbit performance research. The onboard scenes shown in these photographs are of physiology experiments investigating microgravity conditions aboard the Shuttle Orbiter. For example, in one, astronaut-physician Dr. Rhea Seddon, on the bicycle or ergometer, breathes into the cardiovascular unit during an STS-40 spaceflight ... In 1993, during the 10-day STS-55 10-day Spacelab D-2 mission on Columbia, Dr. Bernard Harris, an African American physician, draws blood from Hans Schlegel, a payload specialist from the German Aerospace Research Establishment (DLR). Source: NASA Johnson Space Center.

As has been mentioned, the actions of space agency administrators and managers may also impact the performance of both ground controllers and orbiting space-farers. Such was the case in 1992 when Russia was in transition from the old Soviet system to the new market-oriented economy. At the time, both mission control workers and cosmonauts at the orbiting Mir station demanded a salary increase, and threatened to strike. A banner was erected Our Work Is Cosmic, Our Pay Should Be Cosmic, and it was televised. Even state-run media joined in with such commentary as: One of the most prestigious jobs on Earth has become one of the lowest paid. The bosses at RSC Energia who then ran the national space program got the message, and compensation did improve, so performance levels remained high.

Besides prior manned mission experience, there are also terrestrial analogs to draw on relative to performance in extreme environments, as will be discussed in Chapter 6. Other helpful information about human performance may be gathered from analyzing how workers fare at remote, alien, or foreign locations on this planet. Social scientists have sometimes described these as "exotic environments marked by severe climate, danger, limited facilities, isolation from family and friends, and enforced interaction with others.'' In a review of such research literature, Helmreich and associates [13] discovered that a high level of performance under such circumstances may be dependent on the cohesiveness of the isolated and confined work group. The investigations of Furnham and Bochner [13] on psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments also provide performance data for those on extended sojourns and may help to prevent or lessen space culture shock. Such developments explain, in part, why the National Science Foundation joined with NASA in sponsoring a 1987 conference on "The Human Experience in Antarctica: Applications to Life in Space'' [13]. Exhibit 63 seeks to convey the interplay on varied systems on the Moon that ensure survivability and high performance.

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