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Game-based evaluation of personalized support for astronauts in long duration missions

Author: Smets, N.J.J.M. · Abbing, M.S. · Neerincx, M.A. · Lindenberg, J. · Oostendorp, H. van
Institution: TNO Defensie en Veiligheid
Source:International Astronautical Federation - 59th International Astronautical Congress 2008, IAC 2008 1, 37-48
IAC 2008
Identifier: 22949
Keywords: situation awareness · games


Long duration missions set high requirements for personalized astronaut support that takes into account the social, cognitive and affective state of the astronaut. Such support should be tested as thoroughly as possible before deployment into space. The in-orbit influences of the astronaut's state factors are hard to simulate on earth. Scenario-based evaluation might make the users feel as if they are in the eventual context of use, and are actually taking part in a scenario. In addition game-based evaluation can be used to simulate the space environment (e.g. planetary environment) in order to intensify this feeling. We investigated if evaluation of prototype systems in a game-based environment contributes to producing a more elaborate, in-depth and realistic user experience (cognitive task load, situation awareness, trust and emotion), better task involvement, valid performance and more realistic experience of events in the scenario. For testing our research question, we used the MECA (Mission Execution Crew Assistant) prototype that supports nominal and off-nominal operations taking into account, and adapting its support to, the cognitive and emotional state of its user, the task at hand and the environment. In an experiment, 25 participants played an astronaut role, exploring the Moon surface with a mobile device that provided the personalized support. One group was involved in a scenario-based evaluation, guided by a storyboard on a desktop-PC. The other group played the same scenario in a game-based evaluation, in which the environment was depicted on a two-walled cave. In the game-based evaluation, the participants showed higher arousal levels where expected, a more intense feeling of presence, better situational awareness, higher mental effort and faster performance when needed. So, a game-based evaluation seems to better address the social and affective aspects of the space mission. Consequently, we continued to apply this method to test a next MECA prototype version in a more elaborate multi-person scenario. In this evaluation, fifteen persons participated. Two participants played different astronaut roles concurrently, one in the habitat and the other on EVA. Additional virtual astronauts and rovers were present. The participants were very positive on the MECA support, and noted that there is a need for such support in the envisioned scenario and environmental conditions. Interesting was that the game-based participants were more positive about MECA's monitoring of cognitive load and emotional state than the scenario-based participants. Research is planned to study more long-term effects on the use of personalized support, for example during refreshment training in a game-environment in the Mars500 program.