The NASA AMES HCI group tasked our team with building on NASA’s existing communication and planning tools, Mission Log and Playbook, to improve and redefine asynchronous communication between crew and ground in deep space missions.
Currently, synchronous crew and ground communications are crucial for successful procedure execution. Ground provides crew real-time assistance for task support, troubleshooting, and more. However, synchronous communication will not be possible in deep space missions due to inevitable communication delays, so there must be increased support for asynchronous communication tools.
Advancing Mission Log and Playbook is necessary for the success of NASA’s future missions that take crew beyond the moon.
Synchronous communication will not be possible when astronauts voyage from Earth to Mars. It can take up to 24 minutes for radio waves to travel the distance from Earth to Mars at the speed of light. Since we can’t make anything travel faster than the speed of light (yet), Playbook is designed to make communication and situational awareness more efficient.
/ ExtraVehicular Activity
Astronauts are tasked to do many things on their journey into space, both in the vehicle and outside of the spacecraft. These tasks can range from exercising to maintain muscle tone to science experiments (inside and outside the space shuttle) to spacewalks. All these task vary in time, complexity, and need for support.
Our team decided to focus on one of the more complex tasks: Extravehicular Activities (EVAs)
In an EVA, you have 3 physically separated teams – Mission Control Center (MCC), Intra-Vehicular Astronauts (IVs), and Extravehicular Astronauts (EVs)
While EV’s and IV’s aren’t far away and can talk in real time, MCC is communicating with that 40 minute round trip time delay. A time delay would make an EVA difficult as EV's are dependent on information coming from MCC. And to add to that, the crew will be handling many other constraints, like making sure they’re safe and keeping track of their oxygen levels.
The interface adapts to the information focus on the screen. As the Timeline increases, a larger time range is shown for more context of the overall situation. As the Chat increases, the time range becomes smaller for more details about the conversation.
Making message states more comprehensive
In the center of the chat pane is a column of message timestamps. This brings time information to the forefront of the chat interface, making it more simple to resolve any time math problems. Messages that are sent are placed in the future to help indicate what state the message is in, and all messages update to a solid color on time of delivery.
Understanding a message's relationship to delayed time
Asynchronous communication can lead to misunderstandings due to conflicting messages. The Trace feature allows crew members and Mission Control Center “trace” their messages to understand what information was delivered when a message was sent.
isolating necessary messages for the necessary context
As time delay increases, more context is needed to support effective communication. Chat threads can be created through each task on the Timeline, which automatically provides more conversational context.