7 CSULB Graduate Students from CHAAT Spend Summer at Internships with NASA

Seven Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) graduate students from the campus’ Center for Human Factors in Advanced Aeronautics Technologies (CHAAT) spent their summer vacations performing internships with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

CHAAT performs on-going research to measure human performance in complex systems such as the Next Generation Airspace Transportation System (NextGen).  The center trains students in human factors for careers in the aeronautics industry and supports underrepresented students in their efforts to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering.

Four students—Jason Ziccardi, Ryan O’Connor, Zach Randolph and Conrad Rorie—did their internships at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.  With more than $3 billion in capital equipment, 2,500 researchers, scientists and technology developers, and a $750-850 million annual operating budget, Ames plays a role in virtually all NASA aeronautical and space exploration endeavors.

Rorie spent his first few weeks at NASA Ames reviewing Single Pilot Operations (moving toward a single pilot in the cockpit as opposed to the current two-member crew) and contributing to a collaborative paper assessing the feasibility of SPO in the future.

“I also spent time examining research from the Army on Unmanned Aerial Systems, and I’m currently acting as an observer in their human-in-the-loop simulation on crew performance during multi-vehicle coordination efforts,” he said.  “Much of the remaining internship was spent developing an online survey for air traffic controllers in the FAA.  The survey is the work of the Generic Airspace Team at Ames, and it attempts to determine the aspects of sector management that require the most memorization and specialized skill.”

Students Kevin Monk and Sabrina Billinghurst served internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.  America’s first satellite, Explorer 1 which launched in 1958, was created at JPL which last year launched four new missions.

Monk worked at JPL with the Advanced Multimission Operations System (AMMOS) which offers reliable, cost-effective tools and services to deep-space missions. “The specific branch is IOS (Instrument Operations Subsystem), which deals with the processing of data from space, and provides tools to orbiters and observatories for tactical operations related to image processing and instrument design,” he explained.

Currently, up to 189 measurements from Mars’ surface such as wind speed, temperature and atmospheric pressure are available to observers in the form of raw data.  However, this data is recorded every two seconds, making the amount of data enormous and more difficult to sift through for specific information.  “Using Javascript/jQuery, my duty is to develop a more aesthetically pleasing way of viewing this information to make it easier for scientists to dissect,” he said.

Student Greg Morales interned at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in the western Mojave Desert.  Dryden Flight Research Center is NASA’s primary center for atmospheric flight research and operations.  “The project that I am working on at NASA Dryden,” said Morales, “is to redesign the pilot interface of the Research Ground Control Station that can control different models of unmanned aerial systems.”

Thomas Strybel, CSULB psychology professor and director of CHAAT, said he believes the internships are not only valuable to the students but to NASA as well.

“The goal here (at the center) is to promote NASA-relevant careers,” he explained.  “NASA is worried about its future work force.  They use the internships not only as educational outreach tools but to train future professionals.  Students get the chance to work with remote-controlled vehicles planned for space exploration.  Another student looks at data coming from satellites and makes it easier to comprehend.”

CSULB students acquire a unique skill set as part of the CHAAT program.  “They take the skills they learn in human factors to their internships,” Strybel said.  “Their experience running simulations is especially valuable and that’s what we do on a regular basis.  We have a rigorous, operationally valid program.”

CHAAT is part of the master’s degree of human factors program that looks at next-generation aeronautics systems.  New air traffic technologies are a frequent subject.

“Today’s air traffic controllers carry even more responsibility, and CHAAT wants to help with that,” Strybel noted.  “We have all heard the horror stories of air traffic controllers snoring through their shifts.  What we want to do at CHAAT is help to increase the capacity of the average air traffic controller.  We test the displays they see.  We look at their work loads.  What is their situational awareness?  We can measure what air traffic controllers call ‘having their picture.’”

Strybel pointed out that the interns are all graduate students with solid backgrounds at CSULB.  “The coursework combined with CHAAT gives them experience not only with lab work but with national issues,” he said.  “That makes them very desirable.”

The students’ recognition boosts not only their reputations but CSULB’s, Strybel believes. Recently, CHAAT was accredited by the National Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.  The process is thorough and applications aren’t even accepted until the program has been in operation for five years.  CSULB joins such other accredited campuses as Georgia Tech, the University of Illinois and New Mexico State.

One of CHAAT’s primary focuses is the support of underrepresented students in their efforts to pursue careers in science.  “These student interns were selected in part because they represent both genders, all ages and many nationalities.”

Internships reinforce CSULB’s reputation for teaching practice as well as theory. “There is real-world awareness to our instruction here,” said Strybel.  “Internships with real-world value are critical.  Interviewers always look for real-world experience.  Internships give students credibility. When they leave campus to work for NASA or someone else, the experience they gained here pushes them ahead.”

Fall 2012 Issue

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