Mars500 gaming helps develop electronic helpers for deep space crews
About to be shut away from the outside world, the Mars500 volunteers still get to have fun. Their duties will include regular playing of video games – though with a serious purpose.
Results from the games will help develop computerised ‘electronic partners’ to support crews on future deep space missions.
The latest stage of the international Mars500 programme begins in June: a six-man crew will be sealed in an isolation facility at Moscow’s Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) for 520 days, reflecting the time a return trip to the Red Planet would require. Highlighting the human factors involved in long-duration spaceflight, the crew will carry out tasks similar to those of a real mission.
In addition, they will participate in fortnightly half-hour video game sessions. Crewmen take part three at a time, on a single-player game to fly a lunar lander and a multi-player game where participants cooperate to move coloured trails, as well as a collaborative training system familiarising them with various work procedures.
These sessions will be about more than just enjoyment: the results will be carefully logged and players will fill in detailed questionnaires about their responses to the games, how difficult they found them and their current emotional status.
Interaction between players via instant mail will also be recorded, and even their expressions will be captured via webcam.
The information is being compiled for an ESA project called ‘Mission Execution Crew Assistant’ (MECA), which is developing personalised software agents to interact with crews on deep space missions, boosting the overall effectiveness of such human-machine teams.