The environmental conditions of prolonged spaceflight pose significant psychological risks for astronauts. In particular, crews of future long-duration exploration missions will have to cope with a wide range of stressors that present significant challenges for maintaining optimal performance. Crews will have to operate under conditions of high workload, reduced sleep and circadian dysregulation, limited sensory stimulation, confinement, extended separation from family and friends, and communication delays isolating them from real-time interaction with ground support, which may be particularly critical in the event of emergencies. These factors present significant risks to optimal cognitive/behavioral functioning and performance, across individuals and teams, and such challenges will only increase in criticality as human exploration moves beyond Earth’s orbit to targets such as the Moon and Mars.
In order to keep astronauts healthy, productive, and to mitigate against mission-related disruptions arising from decrements in behavioral health and performance, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH, PI Gary Strangman), in collaboration with researchers from the Fluid Interfaces group (MIT Media Lab, research scientist Nataliya Kosmyna and Professor Pattie Maes), are developing and testing a set of just-in-time strategies and interventions to maintain and restore psychological well-being and operational effectiveness of the crew. The project aims to refine and empirically assess a platform designed to monitor and guide crew members towards optimal physiological and mental states for current or future tasks via personalized changes to the surrounding environment. The team will explore the impact of changes in audio/music, light, and haptics using a closed-loop intervention approach that enables real-time monitoring of these effects using physiological and brain sensors.
The four specific aims of the project are:
AIM 1: Perform a detailed risk assessment of factors that contribute to personal (and team) dysfunction, particularly in isolated, confined, and extreme environments.
AIM 2: Develop a personalized performance-optimization platform (P-POP) based on closed-loop/feedback that integrates physiological sensing with augmentation of the astronaut’s local working environment (e.g., audio, haptics, light) using existing prototypes like AttentivU platform.
AIM 3: Characterize the ability of P-POP to improve key performance capabilities including attention, response time, memory, cognitive control, and operationally-relevant performance.
AIM 4: Assess the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of our proposed platform for use with individuals and teams via empirical testing during long-duration spaceflight analogs.
H1: The novel P-POP will provide real-time physiological monitoring to enable the personalized manipulation of the local work environment—both in the lab and in HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog, a closed habitat designed to serve as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios, located at Johnson Space Center).
H2: Our targeted work environment modulations (e.g., audio, haptics, light) will generate significant improvements in individuals’ cognitive and operational performance.
Our project will generate the following deliverables:
(1) a characterization of those factors that contribute to poor individual and team performance in ICE settings;
(2) a novel platform technology built on existing platforms like AttentivU, capable of real-time tracking of psychological and behavioral health markers and providing targeted augmentation of the local work environment to manipulate those markers;
(3) an evaluation of the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of the proposed platform technology, on both individual and team metrics, including testing in a spaceflight analog. Based on our findings, we will develop specific protocols and guidelines for optimal deployment of our platform, as well as providing standards recommendations.
This work will provide NASA with a novel and scalable platform technology for on-board behavioral health management—adapting the local working environment via feedback based biosensing. The approach is personalized and closed-loop, guiding individuals away from less-optimal states (as assessed by physiological measurements) and towards more-optimal states for the task or activity at hand. We expect the approach to help maintain and improve individual performance as well as team performance. The system does not require video displays or graphics. Importantly, however, the platform will be designed for future augmentation via other countermeasure approaches (e.g., visual, olfactory), depending on the needs and capabilities of any particular exploration mission. On Earth, such a platform could have considerable utility for optimizing human performance in a wide range of workplaces.
PROJECT UPDATE, MAY 25, 2022: ZERO-G FLIGHT EXPERIENCE
In May 2022, AttentivU Platform, in a form-factor of glasses, boarded Zero-G flight to accompany several flyers. The glasses feature non-invasive brain sensing (Electroencephalography or EEG) and eye movement tracking (Electrooculography or EOG) modalities. Currently, there is paucity in the knowledge on the exact effect of microgravity on the human brain. Since space studies are limited by logistic, financial, and practical restrictions, ground-based analogues have been developed to overcome some of these problems. Most state-of-the-art (SoA) and the current knowledge of the effect of microgravity on the brain is based on results obtained from dry immersion and head-down bed rest space analogues. With this flight we tried to bridge this SoA gap by using wireless, wearable, compact brain sensing device on multiple flyers simultaneously. Please stay tuned for more information.