Software that astronauts could use during spaceflight and in future
moon habitats is being tested by NASA in a Utah desert April 23 to
May 7, 2006.

The research is taking place in Utah’s southeast desert, at the Mars
Society’s Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, where
scientists are field-testing a computer network to monitor space
power systems. The network uses the same kind of intelligent software
that also may assist astronauts to conduct planetary exploration with
robotic systems.

“We will experiment with sensors and software that will help us
manage a generator and batteries that provide power to a habitat,
while we are living and working inside (of it),” said Bill Clancey of
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., the project’s
principal investigator.

Nine scientists and engineers from NASA Ames are taking part in the
experiments with the software and hardware systems. The Mars Desert
Research Station will simulate a spaceship in flight or a habitat on
the moon.

During the field exercise, the researchers’ objective is to test
software ‘agents’ that will assist astronauts by monitoring an
electrical power system and sounding alarms that indicate problems.
The agents also will provide procedural advice when problems occur.
The system could keep track of astronaut locations, timelines and
important tasks. Researchers will trigger some simulated problems to
learn how the computer systems help or hinder the crew’s response.

“By using the systems we are developing in the habitat, we are both
testing our ideas and validating our assumptions about what kinds of
tools people really need,” Clancey said.

“A total systems perspective - developing our software in a setting
analogous to where it will be used - provides direct experience and
new insights about how people and automated systems can be designed
to fit together,” Clancey added.

Team members will use prototype tools, including a wireless computer
network, and voice-commanded mission control communication services
that partly automate the role of capsule communicator (CAPCOM)
personnel, who monitor and advise astronauts like they did during the
Apollo missions to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Scientists are making audio and video recordings of the activities
using the Crew-Activity Analyzer system developed under a Small
Business Innovation Research Program grant to Foster-Miller, Inc.,
Waltham, Mass. It will synchronize audio and video recordings with
records of the crewmembers’ locations in the habitat.

From analysis of the recordings and other data, investigators can
evaluate the prototype power system monitoring software and develop
requirements for computer systems to interact with people.

“Human-systems interaction is one of the focus areas for exploration
research,” said David Korsmeyer, chief of the Intelligent Systems
Division at NASA Ames. “Ames participates in several space autonomy,
health management and advanced software projects that can increase
future exploration spacecraft capabilities,” Korsmeyer explained.

The Spacecraft Autonomy Project is a component of the Exploration
Technology Development Program within NASA’s Exploration Systems
Mission Directorate, and funds mobile agents research. The project is
developing a computer language, simulation environment and
operational network for modeling and simulating how software
‘agents,’ people, tools and facilities interact in practical settings.

John Bluck
April 27, 2006
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.