Mars500: Scientific protocols

Development and testing of an operational tool for learning, training and maintenance of space specific complex skills for object hand control with six degrees of freedom

The hand control of objects in weightlessness requires the consideration of six degrees of freedom. In open space no link exists between turns of an object around its own axes and the objects track in space. This requirement is unusual under terrestrial conditions. The control of any object under these conditions requires a higher degree of complexity in perception, cognition and motor multitasking.

This project will test educational training and diagnostic software, which will lead participants step by step and individually through scientifically constructed tasks to the required level of skills before confronting them with complex simulations for object hand control, i.e. leading them through spacecraft docking simulations.

The hand controls (similar to real space craft control sticks) as well as the prototype software were already developed in cooperation with the Institute of Aerospace Medicine of the German Air Force. They are used for the diagnostic of basic skills and compared to simulated, and actual, air- to-air re-fuelling flights with large aircrafts: a similar terrestrial task to space craft docking.

The space relevant version of the tool will use the unique properties of the Mars 500 study to test whether it really works under long-term confinement and isolation. One should imagine a crew returning from Mars but the two professional pilots are sick. There are four academically educated crew mates but without experience in manually controlling a spacecraft. A tested, verified and successful training system would greatly enhance the safety and well being of the crew in this situation.

The tasks in the software have been stylized and abstracted from the space problem with the subjects not being trained in its use. The different levels of the software vary in complexity (for each subject) from very easy to over-challenging. The training tool, which is analogous to the actual docking simulation consists of a virtual ellipsoid object controlled via a cockpit display. The object has to be controlled along given and visible pathways. The paths are visible by a series of ellipsoid rings, which have to be passed through.

Feedback on performance will be provided via the software and correlated with feedback from physiological measures (e.g. evoked potentials, skin conductance responses, heart rate changes, voice pitch changes). To have a diagnostic tool for other psychological questions on-board which is highly accepted by the crew members due to the relevance of the main task (docking) has importance for the support provision but also for scientific goals.

This protocol will help to provide a better understanding of the short and long-term effects of space flight on mental performance and motor control.

Science Team B Johannes (DE) et al.

Last update: 23 March 2010

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