Inside Job: Deep Space Design
Imagine packing up the old RV for a camp-out in … outer space.
Astronauts headed to NASA’s Artemis Gateway, a space station set to orbit the Moon in 2024, will be living tiny in their new quarters: the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). Northrop Grumman human factors expert Shawnette Adams, MSHFID ’14 and fellow engineers have been tasked with designing HALO to be intuitive — and safe. If all goes to plan, HALO will take the astronauts — including the next man, first woman and first person of color — one step closer to Mars.
Mind and Body Experience
Our team’s job is to ask, “How is a person going to complete this task?” for every aspect within HALO. Human factors helps us answer that question and many more by combining facets of psychology and engineering. The field requires an in-depth understanding of mental and physical capabilities and limitations of humans — how people think, behave and perceive their surroundings and why. Limitations such as physical size and strength and cognitive challenges are also addressed during the design process. The design team’s goal is to maximize HALO’s 11.8 cubic meters of usable space to be the most effective and efficient for the astronauts.
Up, Down, All Around
In space, there is no “down.” Water doesn’t drain. Feet aren’t indicators of foundation, as is true on Earth. So we have to think about the impact of many variables, such as the microgravity environment and the lack of earthly orientation cues. Astronauts will live in HALO for up to 30 days: exercising, conducting research, repairing and replacing hardware, and performing medical care. The team has to rethink simple tasks and flip them on their head.
Mission: Safety and Completion
For each task the astronauts will need to perform, our teams asks: How quickly? In what order? Using which tools? Where in HALO will the task be performed? We’re also designing for survivability and maintainability. Astronauts in space can’t run to Home Depot. There’s no calling 911 for emergency fire or medical services. Habitability, safety and occupational health are critical aspects to ensure HALO is “human-rated.” This is a term implemented by NASA after the Challenger and Columbia accidents, ensuring that human spacecraft are failure tolerant and offer protection by allowing astronaut control should a failure occur.
The Human Factor
The human is what makes HALO. I enjoy the work, but I really enjoy the people. Our successes, our challenges, our growth as a team over time. It’s almost unfathomable to work on something so historic. I’m interacting directly with the astronauts who are going to be using this system, with the goal of helping them complete their missions and return to Earth safely. It’s a great honor and a privilege. One day when I retire, I’ll look back and say, “HALO! I was part of that! I was able to contribute to history and leave my mark.”