Published: Dec. 21, 2021 By

Dr. Eric VanceThis year, Applied Mathematics Assistant Professor and Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA) Director Eric Vance received a grant from Johnson Space Center/NASA in collaboration with Smead Aerospace Assistant Professors Allison Anderson (who is the principal investigator) and Torin Clark. 

The project, titled Multi-Environment Virtual Training for Long Duration Exploration Missions, aims to investigate effective virtual reality (VR) training environments for long duration exploration missions (LDEM). Dr. Vance explains:

“We will be developing and testing virtual reality technology for potential use in the training of astronauts during long duration exploration missions, such as those to Mars. In our labs in Boulder, we will test how virtual reality training improves astronaut performance … [and] design experiments to determine how well the virtual reality training mid-flight should be expected to transfer to other skills the astronauts will need to land and navigate spacecraft on Mars.”

The project is investigating the effectiveness of VR training programs designed for LDEMs by:

1. Incorporating multiple, mission critical tasks for a mission to Mars 

2. Investigating skills transfer, retention, and generalizability

3. Designing with low volume, mass, and operational overhead

4. Investigating the degree to which the proposed training can also provide secondary benefits of broad brain stimulation

Specifically, Dr. Vance will be an expert voice in designing required experiments and analyzing data “so that we can make inferences from in-lab performance to in-flight performance.”

From this project, Dr. Vance expects the team to be able to create an effective VR training program for astronauts on long duration space flights and investigate the ability of the program to counteract decreased brain function expected in astronauts participating in long duration missions. 

This project is a continuation of Dr. Vance’s record in participating in collaborative and interdisciplinary projects in a wide variety of fields and research areas. Dr. Vance explained that any “researcher who has data or needs to collect data could benefit from collaborating with an expert in statistics,” and is why Dr. Anderson and Dr. Torin brought his expertise with statistics and data science into their project. This is not the only project in development, however; Dr. Vance expects to continue working with the team “to test whether the new techniques they develop will have a real-world impact to make space flight safer and more successful.” 

Congratulations to Dr. Vance and the whole team for being awarded this grant! More information about this project and other astronaut health and performance research projects selected, visit the NASA Human Research webpage