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Human Research Program

A Comprehensive Fatigue Management Program and an Evaluation of a Photic Countermeasure for Mission Controllers

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

The success of a human spaceflight critically depends on the interaction between the crewmembers and the mission controllers. The ability of both the crew and the controllers to be alert and to maintain high levels of cognitive function while operating and/or monitoring complex, technical equipment is essential. Optimal human health, performance, and safety during spaceflight operations requires sufficient sleep and synchrony between the circadian pacemaker—which regulates the timing of sleep, endocrine function, alertness, and performance—and the timing of the imposed sleep-wake schedule.

Flight mission controllers often work extended duration shifts, rotating shifts, including nights shifts. Such schedules instigate significant acute and chronic sleep deprivation and consequently fatigue. Although the effects are often unrecognized, both the acute and chronic lack of sleep substantially degrades a federal air marshal’s ability to react and think quickly, to make good decisions, and to recognize when fatigue is impairing his or her own performance and safety. Further, both acute and chronic sleep deprivation adversely affects personal health, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal and heart disease, impairing glucose metabolism and immune function, and substantially increasing the risk of injury due to motor vehicle crashes. In addition, it is likely that a significant proportion of mission controllers suffer from undiagnosed sleep disorders which will further impair their sleep and exacerbate fatigue. The deleterious effects of fatigue are readily observed in a wide range of safety-sensitive professions, including law enforcement officers, and include increased risk of self-injury, higher rates of fatigue-related motor vehicle accidents, and greater incidence of serious errors.

We propose to implement a Comprehensive Police Fatigue Management Program for the flight mission controllers program. The goals of this program are to reduce the adverse consequences of fatigue on the mission controllers’ alertness, performance, health, and safety. The overall goals of our team include developing an online education training program and an efficient sleep disorders screening, evaluating the acceptability, feasibility, and efficacy of a shorter wavelength photic countermeasure during operational night shifts and suggesting work-hour policies and guidelines, which can be implemented to improve the alertness, performance, health, and safety of mission controllers.

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