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June 18, 2001

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 604-9000


Tom Nicodemus

Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research, Houston, TX

Phone: 281/286-1555


Release: 01-40AR

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to cover "Human Systems 2001: Exploring the Human Frontier," a conference that will present human problems of long-duration space travel. The conference will be at the Nassau Bay Hilton, 3000 NASA Road 1, Houston, next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The conference will begin on Wednesday, June 20 at 8:30 a.m. CDT with the keynote address of Robert Helmreich, University of Texas at Austin, and will end at 3 p.m. CDT on Friday, June 22. Helmreich is a professor of psychology whose work centers on the study of human performance and error in demanding environments such as those related to aviation, space and medicine.


Machines, rockets and computers are ready for space voyages longer than a year, but can human beings endure the psychological and physical challenges of long-duration space travel?

These problems, potential answers and ongoing research are the focus of an international conference of experts, "Human Systems 2001," to be held June 20 - 22 at the Nassau Bay Hilton, next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston.

"Very little is known about how well the ‘human element’ will stand up to the rigorous demands of an 18-month mission to Mars," said Patricia Cowings, who studies "human factors" at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "Several international teams of scientists have devoted themselves to the investigation of potential biomedical and behavioral problems those space explorers might encounter, and to the development of solutions to those problems."

Use of underwear that contains sensors to non-invasively monitor human stress and performance, 3-D motion tracking, exoskeletons to augment human performance and robot-human interactions are some of the diverse subjects that scientists will cover during the conference.

Cowings is slated to make two presentations. At 1:30 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, June 20, she and colleague William Toscano of NASA Ames will discuss "Improving operational readiness on Earth and in space: Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise." Autogenic, or self-produced, feedback training involves teaching people to voluntarily control bodily functions, such as those of the heart and stomach, that normally are not controlled by a person’s free choice. Autogenic feedback training can enable space travelers to learn to prevent or minimize motion sickness and other conditions experienced by some astronauts during weightlessness.

The researchers measure brain waves, the heart’s electric current, electrical resistance of body tissues, breathing and body movements with "space undergarments" worn by human experimental subjects. Recently, four air traffic controllers wore the space underwear when they participated in a simulation at NASA Ames of a major U.S. airport’s operations.

"We considered air traffic controllers (ATCs) to be a very good model for space crews, as their jobs involve such elements as ‘sustained vigilance’ and ‘critical decision making tasks,’ which have very real consequences to the lives of air passengers and crews," said Cowings. "What’s happening to the physiology of these people as they work through difficult shifts and rotating work schedules? What can we learn from ATCs that could benefit long-duration space crews?" she asked.

Toscano and Cowings also will present at 2:45 p.m. CDT, June 20, when they will talk about how scientists can measure people in real-world situations to determine their readiness for space travel, which countermeasures will help people to cope with psychological and physical stresses and how researchers can measure whether or not countermeasures worked well.

Other NASA-Ames presenters on June 20 include Albert Ahumada, whose talk, "Modeling the Human Visual System in Displays," is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. CDT.

"When we talk to someone, what we say depends on what we know about that person (our model of them) and how they react to what we say. Advanced visual displays will behave this way when presenting visual information," said Ahumada. "They will have a model of the observer’s visual system that will let them format the data for the individual viewer, and they will watch the viewer’s eyes to see whether data appears to be getting through."

At 10:50 a.m., CDT Jeffrey McCandless and Robert McCann of Ames will speak about "Human Factors Issues for the Updated Cockpit Displays of the Space Shuttle." In addition, McCandless and McCann will present, "Human Factors Issues in the Design of Next Generation Spacecraft," at 3:55 p.m. CDT. Ames researcher Dr. Leonard Trejo will present a "poster" session entitled "Using Electroencephalograph (EEG) to Detect and Monitor Mental Fatigue." An EEG is a device that records brain signals.

On Thursday, June 21, NASA Ames speaker Zann Gill will present "Webtank Assessment; Performance in Web-based Collaborative Learning Environments" at 4:45 p.m. CDT.

Friday, June 22 Ames presenters include Trejo, Kevin Wheeler and Charles Jorgensen, who will speak about "Multimodal Neuroelectric Interface Development" at 10:00 a.m. CDT. In recent experiments, the trio was able to simulate landing a jetliner at San Francisco International Airport using human nerve signals picked up by a "wrist bracelet" implanted with dry electrodes. The sensors read muscle nerve signals as the pilot makes the gestures needed to land a computer-generated aircraft.

"This is a fundamentally new way to communicate with machines -- another way to talk with our mechanical world," said Jorgensen, head of the neuroengineering laboratory at Ames. "This new technology is significant in that neuroelectric control of computers can replace computer keyboards, mice and joysticks for some uses."

At 11:15 a.m. Ames’ Trejo also will present "Using EEG to Detect and Monitor Mental Fatigue."

The Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (IAIR), Houston, organized the conference. IAIR’s members include NASA, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center and other agencies. A complete listing of all conference presentations and additional information about human systems is available on the Internet at:

Human Systems 2001 events are open to conference participants and reporters.



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