NASA has announced that a UCF scientist will receive awards for a total of $1.8 million to study health and performance factors that could help future space crews travel to the moon, Mars or asteroids.

Eduardo Salas, Pegasus and Trustee Chair professor of psychology and scientist with the Institute for Simulation and Training, will lead the research that supports NASA’s objectives to ensure the health of space flight crews, especially as they venture beyond the Earth’s orbit for extended periods of time.

NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute announced a total of 23 awards valued at approximately $17 million. Salas is the only researcher to receive two awards in the peer-reviewed competition and only two other universities received more than one award.

Salas is an internationally recognized expert on teams and training. His projects will help NASA safely and efficiently divide tasks between humans and automation, and assess the cognitive and emotional states of individuals and teams, both of which are priorities of the space agency.

The first project will focus on methods to detect and mitigate cognitive performance deficits, stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression for the operational setting of spaceflight from ongoing team member communications, either spoken or written.

Using software and analytic tools the researchers will quantify word choice and patterns in real-time, which may be used to alert them to any changes or potential risk factors.

The effort is critical to keeping teams in space for months and perhaps years, Salas said.

“During long-term spaceflight team members will talk a lot, both during mission critical operations and their down time. By analyzing spontaneous verbal output in real-time communication, we can develop tools to predict problems before they arise,” he said.

The second project will develop a framework for measuring the safety and efficiency of interactions between human team members and the automation required to sustain long-term flight.

The awards come less than two weeks after UCF became the first Florida university selected to lead a NASA project. Physicist Richard Eastes, from the Florida Space Institute, is leading that $55 million project to develop an imaging instrument to study Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“NASA is one of our earliest research partners and we are pleased, in our 50th anniversary year, to be granted these awards, in complimentary disciplines, which highlight the increasing breadth of our research strength” said MJ Soileau, vice president for research & commercialization at UCF.