Empowering Cognitive Capacities of
Human-Machine Exploration Teams

MECA Flyer 01

  The objective of MECA is to empower the cognitive capacities of human-machine teams during planetary exploration missions in order to cope autonomously with unexpected, complex and potentially hazardous situations.  

In the space domain, the plans for manned missions to the Moon and Mars set substantial challenges for developing crew support. For such long-duration missions, there is a need for a Mission Execution Crew Assistant (MECA) that supports (groups of) humans and machines to act in a distributed, autonomous but cooperative way. TNO, S&T, OK-Systems and Airbus D&S apply cognitive engineering methods to derive the requirements and to develop a first MECA prototype.

On the Moon and Mars, machines will include habitats, facilities such as oxygen production plant, exploration vehicles, and autonomous rovers. MECA will provide crew support that acts in a ubiquitous computing environment as “electronic partner”, helping the crew to assess the situation, to determine a suitable course of actions to solve a problem, and to safeguard the astronaut from failures. To establish the required optimization of workload, situation awareness, sense making and trust, emerging technologies will be applied.
Examples are multi-agent systems, automatic planning and scheduling, and model-based health management.
For the development of MECA, we apply a human-, task- and context-driven design and evaluation approach. According to the vision of the project team, both MECA and the humans will show mutual adaptive behaviour, which effects should be well tested with realistic scenarios. Prototyping, simulation and testing is therefore essential to establish a sound and coherent set of requirements.

In a typical scenario, an in-situ MECA health-management process signals the presence of an imminent equipment failure to an astronaut’s “electronic partner”. The ePartner, working together with the astronaut, establishes the root of the failure and derives a repair plan that will compensate for the failure. Assuming that this particular repair requires at least two astronauts, the ePartner contacts the crew’s captain with an update about the equipment’s health status and a request to allocate an additional astronaut having the appropriate skills. It is up to the captain and his or her ePartner to further organize the replanning and (re-)scheduling of the rest of the crew.


MECA is a project funded by the 

ESA contract numbers:

Project partners:
TNO Human Factors (NL), 
Science Technology BV (NL), 
OK-Systems (E), 
AIRBUS Defence & Space (D).

Information: Prof.dr. M.A. Neerincx
TNO Human Factors
P.O. Box 23
3769 ZG Soesterberg
The Netherlands