Methodology for the Scientific Physical and Operations Characterization (SPOC) of Terrestrial Fieldwork



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2020 International Conference on Environmental Systems



The near future of human space exploration includes scientific investigations and pursuits that will necessarily involve fieldwork to collect samples and survey new environments. However, the current processes that scientists employ to complete their fieldwork in present-day terrestrial settings are not well-documented and measures do not currently exist to quantify performance. Space suits will also likely never be able to completely mimic natural biomechanical movements, and given what little is known about those movements exhibited during scientific fieldwork conducted on Earth, this presents potentially significant limitations in scientific return for future missions.


A pilot subject performed representative tasks relating to scientific fieldwork while wearing a noninvasive inertial measurement unit (IMU) array. The specific focus of this work is describing the methodology for data analysis, which begins by classifying different movements and postures (e.g., walking or kneeling) that map to different operationally relevant activities (e.g., traversing or sampling). The classified data is then used for biomechanical metric development, tool usage tracking, and strategy differentiation within planetary relevant contexts. This automated data parsing may also facilitate other future research thrusts like cognitive and teamwork analyses.


This pilot study will inform future efforts examining natural fieldwork conducted in unstructured settings, which will also include surface electromyography to investigate the motor control requirements. This study presents an opportunity to reveal a number of potentially critical aspects of scientific fieldwork that will be pertinent to future planetary missions. For example, frequently used postures or movements exhibited during fieldwork (like swinging a hammer) will impose duty cycle requirements in the joints of future space suits. Overall, this work will have implications for the design and development of space suits, instruments, human-suit-tool interfaces, training protocols, and mission planning/execution. This work is supported by the Translational Research Institute through NASA Cooperative Agreement NNX16AO69A.


Rachel Vitali, University of Michigan, USA
Matthew Miller, Jacobs/NASA Johnson Space Center, USA
Leia Stirling, University of Michigan, USA
The proceedings for the 2020 International Conference on Environmental Systems were published from July 31, 2020. The technical papers were not presented in person due to the inability to hold the event as scheduled in Lisbon, Portugal because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.


extravehicular activity, scientific fieldwork, field study, wearable technology