NEEMO 14 Topside Report No. 7, May 19, 2010
NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations

Mission Day 8 - "Kind of a SPIFe Idea"


After a Sunday day of rest, interrupted only by a few blood draws, journal entries and bouts of Twittering, the crew is back at it again in their house under the sea. They set about today to complete the third and final set of days devoted to the study of the Center of Gravity (CG) rigs on the seafloor, lander and rover.

One interesting note today was our shift from standard, real-time communication protocol to a more Mars-like communication mode. In this operating mode, we instituted a 20-minute delay in communications between the Topside team in the Mission Control Center (MCC) and the crew in the Aquarius habitat. We also have started communicating via video once a day. This is a very different way to operate than in standard spaceflight, and requires a different mission control concept of operations.

In executing a mission such as this, it is important to have a very robust planning tool for both the MCC and the crew. Our planning tool, which is called SPIFe, not only enables us to plan the mission months in advance, but also to be able to make real-time changes to the plan to optimize the performance of the crew to achieve mission objectives. The following is a description of this tool.

SPIFe scheduling tool study: A Scheduling and Planning Tool in NEEMO 14 - A Simulated Space Environment

SPIFe (read as "spiffy" which stands for the Scheduling and Planning Interface for Exploration) is a software tool designed to plan activities in mission operations environments. The tool has been built from the ground up based on lessons learned from Mars robotic science planning domain in the MER (Mars Exploration Rover) mission. As scheduling needs are discovered, SPIFe continues to evolve by helping support various customers including the Mars Phoenix Lander, Bed Rest and LCROSS.

On NEEMO, SPIFe has been the primary scheduling tool for creating and maintaining the crew's schedule. Its usage has provided invaluable feedback in terms of design and usability that will help improve its efficiency in human planning domains. In addition, NEEMO serves as a platform that allows SPIFe to be evaluated as a plan execution tool where the users now consist of a crew following and executing a schedule. Traditionally, the users of SPIFe are just planners who create a plan — on NEEMO, the users are both the planner that produces the plan as well as the crew that consumes the plan.

So far, the use of SPIFe has unearthed lessons learned in all different parts of the mission. Usability issues with the software as a planning tool naturally come up in operations use. Other findings include process changes that must evolve as tools get better: while it may now be easier to manipulate activities than before, it may not be desirable to do so because of unforeseen constraints that had never come up before. For example, while dive partners were easily swapped in the schedule, such manipulation caused coordination issues when tasks for a day were not fully completed and had to be finished the next day, which had been planned with different dive partner configurations. With the additional task of the tool serving as an execution tool, we are learning that the planner's role must adapt to include more responsibilities such as making sure that the schedule is understandable to the crew. During the portion of NEEMO with Mars communication delay, we look forward to learning how a planning tool must be usable for a more autonomous crew.

Thanks for following along!

The NEEMO Topside Team