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Developing Decision Aids to Enable Human Spaceflight Autonomy

Jeremy D. Frank, Kerry McGuire, Haifa R. Moses, Jerri Stephenson


As NASA explores destinations beyond the Moon, the distance between Earth and spacecraft will increase communication delays between astronauts and Mission Control. Today, astronauts coordinate with Mission Control to request assistance and await approval to perform tasks. Many of these coordination tasks require multiple exchanges of information, (for example, taking turns). In the presence of long communication delays, the length of time between turns may lead to inefficiency, or increased mission risk. Future astronauts will need software-based decision aids to enable them to work autonomously from Mission Control. These tools require the right combination of mission operations functions, for example, automated planning and fault management, troubleshooting recommendations, easy to access information, and just-in-time training. Ensuring these elements are properly designed and integrated requires an integrated human factors approach. This article describes a recent demonstration of autonomous mission operations using a novel software-based decision aid onboard the International Space Station. We describe how this new technology changes the way astronauts coordinate with mission control, and how the lessons learned from these early demonstrations will enable the operational autonomy needed to ensure astronauts can safely journey to Mars, and beyond.

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