A Cork Astronomy Club public lecture
Cian O Regan talked about human factors in space flight, problems that arise and what is being done to learn how best to cope with them. Cian is a PhD student at MTU, and his thesis will investigate these questions.
Cian wears a pilot’s cap in an aircraft cockpit, at left of lefthand photo. The recorded behaviour of pilots in emergency situations provides useful data for his research. Right: a hypothetical Mars astronaut controlling a drone.
Sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars will pose huge challenges for the astronauts both psychological and physical, challenges which far surpass what is encountered on the International Space Station. How will astronauts respond and will their ability to perform their duties and to respond to emergencies be impaired? What can be done to mitigate the ill effects?
The 5 hazards of human spaceflight are radiation, altered gravity fields, hostile and closed environments, distance from Earth, and isolation and confinement. Human factors is a field of study to reduce error and increase productivity focussing on the interaction between the human and the machine.
Avoid the Norman door!
We heard about a Norman door, all too common in public buildings – where the design tells you to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, and there has to be a sign to correct it. Normanism is to be avoided at all cost in designing spacecraft.
There’s an optimum level of arousal to maximise human performance. Boredom at the low end (think of a 6-month journey to Mars) and strong anxiety at the high end both impair human performance. So is it worth sending humans at all, why not just send robots? Because humans are so much more productive than robots ─ for now, anyway.
Human factors is the field of study to reduce error and increase productivity focussing on the interaction between the human and the machine. For space agencies these are urgent questions and Cian described what has been done so far to address them, and his own research.
The lecture was live streamed over Zoom.