How to stay up all night the NASA way

Astronaut Guy Gardner turned a blind eye aboard the space shuttle.

Astronaut Guy Gardner turned a blind eye aboard the space shuttle.
photo: NASA

Artemis 1 mission to the moon is unbolted – at least in space. On the ground, it takes more than 200 NASA engineers and technicians in Florida and Texas to get the rocket off the ground.

And rocket launches often occur in the middle of the night or very early in the morning when the weather tends to be calmer. The Artemis 1 mission, for example, launched at 1:47 a.m. ET, and its first launch attempt in late August was scheduled for 8:33 a.m. ET — which meant the entire team stayed up all night as the Space Launch System rocket refueled was takes about nine hours.

During this first launch attempt, the ground controllers encountered a multitude of Propellant leaks and a Motor temperature sensor defective. The launch was scrubbed about an hour after the scheduled launch time – mainly to allow the team to get some rest before considering what to do next.

“The team worked through a number of issues today, the team was tired at the end of the day and we just decided it was best to wrap it up and get back together tomorrow,” Mike Sarafin, the NASA executive in charge of the mission manager,” he said at the time. “We’ll give the team a rest first and come back fresh tomorrow.”

Few people have jobs as high-stakes as a NASA engineer, but the agency’s productivity approach can help the rest of us. If you (or your boss) are tries to pursue Elon Musk-style politics of being “extremely stubborn” and working “long hours at high intensity,” read on.

Fatigue can be dangerous

In 1997, an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were on board the Mir space station. A resupply spacecraft was en route to the station, and one of the cosmonauts used remote controls to bring it there manually. But the spaceship shattered in me, breaking up the station; The occupants managed to seal off a damaged module with only a few minutes of breathing air on board.

Some technical problems emerged after the accident, but there was an even bigger one: the cosmonaut operating the spacecraft had been sleep deprived and was known to be argumentative and irritable; a psychologist from the Russian Space Agency authorized “serious doubts” about the cosmonauts’ ability to dock the spacecraft, but they signed off on the attempt anyway.

“It’s not uncommon to find out in advance that human error was associated with high levels of fatigue,” said Dr. Stephen Hart, a neurologist who has been a NASA flight surgeon for 25 years, told Quartz.

NASA’s approach to balancing productivity and recovery

Hart’s primary responsibility is to ensure the health of the astronaut corps, which requires approximately 8.5 hours of sleep per day while on military duty on the International Space Station. But he and his colleagues are also advising NASA leadership on planning so the on-site team is ready at key decision points – “When is the best time for us to sleep, to be fresh for that?”

NASA ground crews will be advised on how to alter their sleep schedules using substances that seem familiar (caffeine and melatonin), various aids (blue-blocker glasses, eye masks and earplugs), and a variety of techniques (naps and breathwork). .

A big part of the challenge is that there are so many differences in how people respond to lack of sleep. NASA places a lot of emphasis on testing its hardware, but also wants its employees to experiment so they know what to expect. NASA even has released an app based on the techniques it uses to assess whether astronauts are too tired in orbit. It was designed for researchers to use to assess “psychomotor alertness” during sleep studies, but you can use it yourself to see how fatigue affects you.

“Some people are rock solid without much sleep, and others fall and burn,” says Hart. “You have to encourage people to experiment with their own bodies before they put themselves or others under stress.”


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