Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy - Solar - Nuclear
..
. Space Travel News .




SPACE TRAVEL
Who's the ace among aces?
by Jennifer Chu for MIT News
Boston MA (SPX) Oct 22, 2013


Astronauts must manipulate the space station's arm via two joysticks - one that moves the arm up, down, and sideways, and another that controls the arm's attitude, or tilt. Complicating matters is the system of cameras aboard the station, which view the arm from different angles.

On Oct. 30, 2007, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery set out on a routine mission: installing two solar panels on the truss, or backbone, of the International Space Station. While the first panel deployed successfully, astronauts noticed a two-foot-wide tear in the second panel.

To repair the tear, crewmembers devised a risky plan, sending an astronaut on a spacewalk while tethered to the shuttle's inspection arm. The mission marked the first time an astronaut had used the robotic arm in such a way - a potentially dangerous undertaking, as a wrong move could have electrocuted the spacewalker. In the end, the mission was a success, due partly to the robotic arm's operators, who were trained to maneuver the multijointed arm with high precision.

Today, all incoming astronauts complete extensive training to learn to operate a similar robotic arm on the space station. But the operation isn't intuitive, and there's a steep learning curve for some.

MIT researchers in the Man Vehicle Laboratory (MVL) are looking for ways to streamline this lengthy training process. They administered standard cognitive spatial tests to 50 astronauts, and compared these initial results with the astronauts' performance in NASA's 30-hour Generic Robotics Training (GRT) course. The researchers found that the initial spatial tests were able to predict the top performers in the more extensive course.

The results, says MVL director Charles Oman, suggest that the initial spatial tests may be used as a screening tool to place low-scorers on an in-depth training track, while accelerating high-scorers through a shortened course.

"Astronaut training time is a precious resource, and we want to use it as efficiently as we can," says Oman, who is a senior research engineer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "We want to see if there is an objective way of picking people who may be stars, or identifying people who maybe shouldn't be doing robotics."

Oman and his colleagues have published their results in the journal Acta Astronautica. The paper's co-authors are research scientists Andrew Liu and Alan Natapoff, and graduate research assistant Raquel Galvan.

Turning the world over
Operating robots in space requires a degree of mental dexterity, as there are few landmarks with which to orient an object. A zero-gravity environment can also add to spatial confusion.

"On Earth, we don't have to remember what things look like upside down," Oman says. "We don't have to be able to turn the world over in our mind to remember which way to turn when we're trying to follow a route."

But mental rotation is an essential spatial skill for maneuvering objects in space, particularly with the space station's robotic arm. Controlling the arm is a fairly unintuitive process, unlike some other robots whose arms can be moved by a person who makes the same motion.

Instead, astronauts must manipulate the space station's arm via two joysticks - one that moves the arm up, down, and sideways, and another that controls the arm's attitude, or tilt. Complicating matters is the system of cameras aboard the station, which view the arm from different angles.

"You're looking at the task and the arm from each camera, and each time, you have to reorient your mind to figure out what you're looking at," Oman says. "If you move the controller to the right, the arm might move another way because the camera is tilted. So that's one of the things that makes it challenging."

Predicting the top of the class
The researchers determined that the spatial skills involved in such robotic operation generally break down into two categories: object rotation, or the ability to imagine how an object looks when rotated, and perspective taking, the ability to imagine how an object or scene looks from different viewpoints. While the two tasks seem similar, Oman says they appear to operate via different pathways in the brain.

He and his team chose three pen-and-paper cognitive spatial tests and one computer-based test to gauge astronauts' skills in object rotation and spatial visualization. Each test involved a number of timed exercises in which an astronaut chose a correct object orientation, given a set of instructions. All four tests were completed in one hour or less.

"Even within the astronaut community, there was a distribution of how good their spatial abilities are, according to the tests we gave them," says Liu, who administered the tests at NASA's Astronaut Training Office in Houston.

Liu worked the test data into a model to predict astronaut performance in NASA's GRT course. The model was able to predict the top performers in the class, as measured by the astronaut's final GRT exam scores.

Daniel Burbank, chief of the extravehicular activity and robotics branch of NASA's Astronaut Office, says that the amount of training astronauts receive has increased significantly since the days of space shuttle missions, given the complexity of robotic maneuvers on the International Space Station. Astronauts today are also expected to assume multiple roles, from operating robotics to performing spacewalks.

"It's very helpful and crucial for the crews to be able to build in their head a 3-D model of where all the obstructions are," says Burbank, who has flown as a mission specialist on two shuttle missions, and as a commander on the ISS. "Before expending a lot of resources on training, you'd like some predictive tools to guarantee they would be successful in robotics."

While the researchers caution that such a screening tool is not meant to determine an astronaut's career direction, the spatial tests and model may be used to help customize training. For example, if an astronaut scores low on initial tests, he may be assigned to a more comprehensive course, with extra practice. If he aces the tests, he may be considered for a more abbreviated version of the course.

"An astronaut's schedule is really packed with traveling and other training," Liu says. "So being able to know who's going to require more time is a real boon for planning their schedule."

.


Related Links
MIT
Space Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





SPACE TRAVEL
Ethiopia sets sights on stars with space program
Addis Ababa (AFP) Oct 22, 2013
Ethiopia unveiled Friday the first phase of a space exploration programme, which includes East Africa's largest observatory designed to promote astronomy research in the region. "The optical astronomical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research," said observatory director Solomon Belay. The observatory, which will formally be opened on Saturday, bo ... read more


SPACE TRAVEL
Astrium awarded three new contracts by ESA for Ariane 6 and Ariane 5 ME launchers

Sounding Rocket Calibrates NASA's SDO Instrument

Russia Readies Proton Rocket for October 20 Launch

Sunshield preparations bring Gaia closer to deep-space Soyuz launch

SPACE TRAVEL
India sets November 5 for Mars mission launch

MAVEN Launch Preps on Schedule

Phobos-Grunt-2: Russia to probe Martian moon by 2022

Russian scientists set sights on space

SPACE TRAVEL
Crowdfunded Lunar Spacecraft Reaches Funding Milestone

LADEE Continues To Settle Into Operational Lunar Orbit

NASA's moon landing remembered as a promise of a 'future which never happened'

Russia could build manned lunar base

SPACE TRAVEL
SwRI study finds that Pluto satellites' orbital ballet may hint of long-ago collisions

Archival Hubble Images Reveal Neptune's "Lost" Inner Moon

New Horizons - Late in Cruise, and a Binary Ahoy

Pluto Science Conference Exceeds Expectations

SPACE TRAVEL
Count of discovered exoplanets passes the 1,000 mark

Iowa research team see misaligned planets in distant system

Astronomer see misaligned planets in distant system

Water discovered in remnants of extrasolar rocky world orbiting white dwarf

SPACE TRAVEL
ESA drives forward with all-electric telecom satellites

Russian booster 'not the culprit in saiga kill'

Proton booster back in service after mishap

XCOR And ULA Complete Critical Milestone In Liquid Hydrogen Engine Program

SPACE TRAVEL
Is China Challenging Space Security

NASA's China policy faces mounting pressure

Ten Years of Chinese Astronauts

NASA vows to review ban on Chinese astronomers

SPACE TRAVEL
Is the 'Christmas Comet' cracking up?

Comet ISON Appears Intact

Spacecraft images of asteroid reinforce telescope observations

Telescopes Large and Small Team Up to Study Triple Asteroid 87 Sylvia




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement