Feeds

NASA ponders stressful stress-test device for astronauts

I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

American trick-cyclists have developed a new handheld device which they reckon will be able to tell if an astronaut is too stressed out, tired, or otherwise unfit to carry out a difficult task in space.

According to an article in New Scientist, David Dinges - chief of Pennsylvania University's Unit for Experimental Psychiatry - has developed a gizmo called the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT). When an astronaut is about to do something tricky like pilot a space shuttle in a docking manoeuvre or chuck an old fridge off a space station, he or she quickly grabs the PVT and takes the three-minute test, which involves pressing buttons when lights come on.

Provided the spaceman or woman isn't knackered, drunk or, erm, a trifle loosely wrapped - perhaps due to a stressful, potentially violent love-triangle incident - the test will give the OK. But if the astronaut is a bit mad, blotto, sleepy, or otherwise sub-par, the PVT will issue a no-no: perhaps by a recorded voice saying "I can't let you do that, Dave."

The need for such tests is seen as vital.

"In high-performance jobs like an astronaut's, you want them as close to optimal performance as you can get them all the time," Dinges told New Scientist. "The consequences of a human error are grave."

Apparently, Dinges developed the device while working with "aquanauts" in NASA's underwater space habitat simulator off the coast of Florida. The simulator creates conditions just like those in space, except that there is water instead of empty vacuum. Dinges monitored the aquatic spacemen's sleep patterns and cortisol levels to see whether the PVT worked.

There would seem at least some chance of the PVT actually creating the conditions it seeks to detect. Astronauts might develop pre-PVT stress, leading to them failing the test even if they were previously fine. The only logical thing would then be to develop more tests, in order to work out if people have pre-PVT stress syndrome. Perhaps some kind of invasive in-orifice probe, constantly monitored by teams of trick-cyclists in relays.

Or they could just let the beleaguered astronauts get on with their jobs and let them have a beer occasionally. It's no wonder the space aces occasionally get a bit twitchy if this is the sort of thing they have to put up with all the time.

More from New Scientist here. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.