Designing for emotional survival : anticipating and addressing the behavioural dimension of unprecedented deep space exploration mission scenarios on a spectrum of operational evidence and speculative design

Peldszus, Regina (2012) Designing for emotional survival : anticipating and addressing the behavioural dimension of unprecedented deep space exploration mission scenarios on a spectrum of operational evidence and speculative design. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Future crewed deep space exploration missions such as those to Mars or a Near Earth Asteroid are characterised by extreme remoteness, high crew autonomy, reliance on the immediate habitat vehicle system, and the limited possibility for resupply or intervention from the ground. Human behaviour and performance issues represent a critical challenge for crew survival and mission success. Current biomedical research and development taxonomies emhpasise the need for addressing the experience of isolation and monotony particularly during uneventful, extended transfer stages to and from a destination in a confined, itinerant habitat vehicle. However, this aspect has received relatively little attention from an integrated habitability design perspective. At the same time, many of the in-flight psychological support measures employed in orbital long duration missions to date rely on close proximity to Earth and cannot be directly exported into an autonomous flight paradigm. This highlights the strategic design issue of establishing and extrapolating existing operational evidence-bases for unprecedented mission scenarios, and the potential for employing speculative approaches currently emerging within the industrial and interaction design disciplines. This research project focused on these two aspects of a deep space mission scenario. Research question 1 addressed autonomous habitat design-based mitigation strategies to monotony. Question 2 considered design approaches in view of novel situational constraints. In response to research question 1, the user experience of monotony was examined as a phenomenon of sensory, spatial and social isolation in relation to design provisions in the habitat vehicle. A review of behavioural health mitigation aspects recorded in published user accounts from extended orbital and simulator missions was conducted. It was found that users experienced aspects of monotony to varying degrees. In terms of countermeasures, three common design themes were identified: off-duty hardware interaction, plant growth facilities, and crew care packages. A set of design studies then translated the themes into the autonomous context of a remote deep space setting: the relationship of users with onboard hardware as manifested in practical jokes and hacking; their experience of the apparently sparse but awe inducing local natural context; and the integration of novelty provisions into an otherwise entirely familiar habitat. This was informed by additional ethnographic cases studies into user behaviour in space and analogue environments, conceptual design development, and operational application in two ground-based mission simulations (basic wear system in Mars500; olfactory intervention in MDRS). In synthesising these, a design rationale for mitigating the somewhat inevitable issue of monotony emerged. It directs emphasis towards accommodating in-flight support measures within existing onboard habitation systems in addition to providing separate support applications; and towards amplifying the positive factors of the local situational context through habitat design affordances, rather than predominantly providing diversions from its stressors. Research question 2 investigated the spectrum of evidence and speculation available to the designer when addressing unparalleled mission settings. While only a limited existing body of evidence from previous missions can be drawn on directly, a range of analogous models exist in human research and operations. A feasibility study was conducted at the astronaut training division of the European Space Agency to develop a framework for capturing and integrating operational user evidence for future systems design. Contextualised by a documentary compilation and taxonomy of functional and representational modes of modelling and simulation, this highlighted the notion of design-relevant insights to be derived from user interaction with training mock-ups and simulators. In order to understand the extension of this interaction with models representing evidence towards the end of the spectrum of novel scenarios, the potential validity and application of speculative design, as manifested in the Designing Emotional Survival 4 fictional models of film production design, was examined. This involved a case study based on archive material from the Stanley Kubrick estate charting the design development of the habitation systems in 2001: A Space Odyssey by its team comprising both aerospace experts and film industry professionals, and the subsequent analysis of 36 film productions sampled according to the relative authenticity of their reference mission. The set of studies suggested that the potential merit of engaging in ‘authentic’ speculative design practice lies not necessarily in offering of a wide range of alternative conceptual design solutions. Rather, it represents a heuristic tool to identify, channel and manifest a range of extended narratives of human activity that traditional evidence-based models only partially afford. Fusing evidence and speculation in integrated, experiential models thus lends itself to facilitating scenario-building efforts early on in the systems planning process. In reflecting its current position in aerospace, it is hence put forward that, beyond translating requirements into applied solutions, design can assume the role of a foresight tool. Finally, in view of a transfer of findings and linking to current interaction design theory, an argument is made from the critical design perspective for reading spaceflight settings and its designed systems as laboratory for the human condition as such. In an effort to contribute to the theoretical and practical consolidation of design as a spaceflight discipline at the interface of life sciences, human factors, space architecture and systems engineering, this exploratory inquiry offers applied and methodological points of departure to inform research and design practice into the behavioural dimension of deep space exploration missions, their analogues, and remote duty contexts in other extreme environments.

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