The passing of Neil Armstrong

August 28, 2012

The Saturn V carrying Apollo 11 took several s...

The passing of Neil Armstrong has brought back memories of the historic Moon landing in 1969.  Many who are old enough will remember the awe and excitement of seeing the Apollo 11 mission on the grainy TVs of the day.  I remember as a young boy that my school let the kids out early to view it and I recall peering through shop windows at the landing on the display TVs which were everywhere due to the significance of the event.  Many people had the same idea – it was standing room only outside the local store.

The various articles praise President Kennedy for the original vision, and the scientists and engineers who made it happen. But, as always, it was the human astronauts who carried out the mission, and I recall reading that Armstrong actually took control of the Lunar lander to steer it to its safe resting position after realizing that the planned location was unsuitable.

This poses the question of what role humans will play in future manned missions into space. Will they just be cargo and the autonomous spaceship take them where it is programmed to go? Or will the specially trained commander of the mission and their crew do a similar yet higher tech version of Armstrong and have the final say in where they go?

A few weeks ago, I posted a comment on the issues with regard to pilots becoming flight managers rather than retaining their ultimate control of the aircraft.  There is a current discussion about the ramifications of this for the skills of the pilots and their ability to recover a situation if the automation controls fail for whatever reason. It seems that there is always a problem in striking a balance between automation and human control.  In many circumstances, we get it right but there is still a view that humans should be excluded from decision processes.  I think a better way to go is to provide the humans in executive control the information they require to make the right decisions.  Robbing them of this basic situational awareness is a typical error in automation and the ramifications can be catastrophic.

So, as always, we need to ensure that we provide the right information to the human in the loop, at the right time, and in the right format.  That’s where human factorsprofessionals can help.

Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Big Brother on Mars

August 14, 2012


Great little piece re getting people to go to Mars.

Seems the engineers and physicists are really across the technical aspects of this idea.  Fantastic stuff!

But using the ‘Big Brother’ paradigm to investigate individual and group behaviour of small teams in special environments, is a bit too left field as far as I’m concerned.Big Brother Logo

Now I don’t profess to being a ‘Big Brother’ admirer (try to keep away as much as possible in fact).  Don’t find the intrusion, trivialisation and sensationalism of the human condition that occurs on the program entertaining.  See it on the News and current affairs shows all too often.  Would rather watch something uplifting, educational or inspirational.

However I am interested in some of the really important experiments that have been occurring in various deserts around the world over the past several years exploring exactly how human teams interact in these extreme environments.  Testing how life would really be like on Mars. These experiments unlike what appears to be planned for Big Brother, are scientifically and ethically based.

Remember Ethics?  That aspect which supposedly is the core of all scientific research?  And remember Ethics in Human Research?

I wonder how the ethics of the Big Brother paradigm on mars will be handled.  Suspect it will be overlooked as all efforts will be focused on the technical and physical science brilliance required to  go to Mars.  Seems that all too often the technical sciences are either unaware of or remember to forget Ethics.  Perhaps training in this area should be compulsory in their undergraduate training as it is for all social sciences.  Maybe then there would be more understanding of this critical issue.

I wonder how the principle of informed consent would be handled for the typical ‘Big Brother’ contestant?  Consider the breadth of discussion at the table of the Human Research Ethics Committee considering the proposal – now that would be fantastic TV viewing!

Big Brother