NASA Arrives: Taking Human Factors Research to the Next Level

It is therefore abundantly evident that when the NACA handed over the keys of its research facilities to NASA on October 1, 1958, the Nation’s new space agency began operations with a large database of informa­tion relating to the human factors and human engineering aspects of piloted flight. But though this mass of accumulated knowledge and technology was of inestimable value, the prospect of taking man to the next level, into the great unknown of outer space, was a different prop­osition from any ever before tackled by aviation research.[339] No one had yet comprehensively dealt with such human challenges as the effects of long-term weightlessness, exposure to ionizing radiation and extreme temperature changes, maintaining life in the vacuum of space, or with­standing prolonged impact deceleration forces encountered by humans violently reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.[340]

NASA began operations in 1958 with a final parting report from the NACAs Special Committee on Space Technology. This report recommended several technical areas in which NASA should proceed with its human factors research. These included acceleration, high-intensity radiation in space, cosmic radiation, ionization effects, human information process­ing and communication, displays, closed-cycle living, space capsules, and crew selection and training.[341] This Committee’s Working Group on Human Factors and Training further suggested that all experimentation con­sider crew selection, survival, safety, and efficiency.[342] With that, America’s new space agency had its marching orders. It proceeded to assemble "the largest group of technicians and greatest body of knowledge ever used to define man’s performance on the ground and in space environments.”[343]

Thus, from NASA’s earliest days, it has pioneered the way in human – centered aerospace research and technology. And also from its begin­ning—and extending to the present—it has shared the benefits of this research with the rest of the world, including the same industry that contributed so much to NASA during its earliest days—aeronautics. This 50-year storehouse of knowledge produced by NASA human fac­tors research has been shared with all areas of the aviation community— both the Department of Defense (DOD) and all realms of civil avia­tion, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the airlines, general aviation, aircraft manufacturing companies, and producers of aviation-related hardware and software.