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Interview with Yurii Tiapchenko

Conducted on-line in October 2002 - March 2003

Yurii Tiapchenko graduated from the Moscow Power Engineering Institute in 1961 and joined the Flight Research Institute in Zhukovskii near Moscow. He worked on information display systems (IDS) for all Soviet piloted spacecraft, except the Vostok. In 1967 the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau led by Sergei Darevskii was formed within the Institute, and this Bureau was appointed the lead organization in the country for the development of IDS. In 1971 the Bureau separated from the Institute and became an independent organization. In 1983 the Bureau was transferred to the Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Equipment, which was formed on the basis of one of the branches of the Flight Research Institute. In 1997 the Bureau was restructured and renamed the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Equipment. Tiapchenko supervised the design and development of IDS for the service module of the Mir space station, for the International Space Station, and for the modernized piloted spacecraft Soyuz-TMA. In 1993-2002, he was deputy Chief Designer and the head of the Division of Onboard Information Display Systems at the Bureau. Yurii Tiapchenko's articles, "IDS for Russian Spacecraft: An Overview", "IDS for Russian Spacecraft: Generations I and II", "IDS Generations III, IV, and V", "IDS for Soyuz-T/TM and the MIR Space Station,", and "IDS for Soyuz-TMA and the International Space Station," are posted in the Essays section of this website.

This interview was conducted and translated from the Russian by Slava Gerovitch.

Gerovitch: What are the major problems in the design of information display systems (IDS) for spacecraft?

Tiapchenko: From the first years of space exploration to the present the main problem here is to design display systems capable of working in a vacuum in case of spacecraft depressurization, and also in case of higher pressure during pressurization tests on the ground. Other requirements include fire-proof and hygienic features and weight and reliability specifications. At the present the most important problem is the design of a human-machine interface.

Gerovitch: What are the criteria of success?

Tiapchenko: Tests must confirm that a product meets its specifications.

Gerovitch: In case of contradictory demands, how are the priorities set?

Tiapchenko: Priority is always given to functionality and reliability. Weight, size, and other such requirements serve simply as limitations.

Gerovitch: Who formulates the technical requirement for IDS?

Tiapchenko: The common practice in Russian cosmonautics is this: the customer provides some initial data in a general form, and the contractor formulates the technical requirement for IDS (the structure, functional requirements, and technical specifications). Operational requirements are set by the customer. The technical requirement as a whole is then signed by the customer and agreed upon by the contractor. In our experience the technical requirement has often been developed by the contractor and agreed upon by the customer. Nevertheless, formally speaking, the customer is listed as the author of the technical requirement.

Gerovitch: Do any arguments occur in this process? How are these arguments resolved?

Tiapchenko: Surely there are arguments, and they are quite harsh. In practice, the technical requirement is often finally signed only after the IDS design is completed. When an IDS was developed for the Almaz space station, its technical requirement was signed only during factory tests. Disagreements are usually settled with the help of the chief designer of the spacecraft involved.

Gerovitch: Who carries out quality control?

Tiapchenko: In the Soviet Union and in Russia quality control at all stages of the lifecycle of spacecraft equipment is carried out by the technical control department and by a representative from the Ministry of Defense, even if the customer for a given spacecraft is the Academy of Sciences or another ministry. This approach has resulted in such organization of the rocket-space industry that makes it possible to produce high quality equipment.

Gerovitch: Has the experience gained in the design of IDS in other fields been used in the design of IDS for spacecraft?

Tiapchenko: In the design of IDS for the first generation of manned spacecraft, the experience gained in aviation was widely used. For example, the IDS for the Vostok spacecraft employed the same principles of design and construction of three-arrow gauges that were used in aviation. The designers also borrowed from aviation some controls (tumbler switches, push-button switches, and current protection devices), the principles and means of construction of a visual failure-warning system, the specifications for a sound warning system, the ergonomic requirements for various elements of IDS, the arrangement of instrument boards and control panels and their location in the cabin, and so on.

In the Soviet Union the approach to the role of a human on board was drastically different from the U.S. Soviet spacecraft were designed in such a way as to be capable of carrying out all flight tasks automatically according to instructions from the Earth. This created a major difference between cosmonautics and aviation. In aviation the priority in control tasks belonged to a human on board, while in cosmonautics the priority was given to automata and to a human in a ground control center.

For this reason, the designers of IDS faced a difficult problem of including a human in the control loop. Specialists in engineering psychology from various universities were asked to help solve this problem. Significant contributions to the solution of this problem were made by S.P. Korolev, K.P. Feoktistov, Yu.P. Karpov, V.A. Timchenko (of the Energia Corporation), V.A. Ponomarenko, V.P. Zinchenko, and others.

My personal contribution, I think, consisted in the early decision to divide all manned spacecraft into two categories: transport ships and long-term space stations.

Gerovitch: What is the difference in the IDS for space ships and for space stations?

Tiapchenko: For the former, the major problems are orbit correction, approach and docking, re-entry and landing, and so on. That is, an apparatus of the first type is capable of changing the position of its center of gravity and its velocity within a wide range. Here the problem of guidance and alike may be borrowed from aviation.

To the second type belong space laboratories, which are living quarters with conditions suitable for specific activities. In the design of IDS for space stations one could use some ideas from power industry, for example. Our own experience with adapting space station IDS design principles to the design of IDS for nuclear power stations and vice versa confirms that assumption. In some projects, one could easily substitute the words "space station " with "nuclear power station" and nobody would notice the difference. Thus one can definitely argue that experience gained in the design of IDS for large ground systems has been used in the design of IDS for spacecraft.

Gerovitch: Did any cosmonauts participate in the design and testing of IDS for spacecraft? Did their suggestions influence the design of IDS?

Tiapchenko: Cosmonauts have played practically no part in the design of IDS for all spacecraft, except the Buran and the Almaz. The cosmonauts have always played an active role in the testing of an ergonomic IDS interface. Without them, a permission to use an IDS on board cannot be issued. The cosmonauts play a particularly important role in the testing of indicators of various types on electronic IDS, in evaluating the difficulty of reaching for controls while in a space suit, and so on.

On Sergei Darevskii's initiative, in the early years of cosmonautics they organized regular meetings at the Flight Research Institute with cosmonauts after their return to the Earth. The cosmonauts' comments were always taken into account.

In the past few years cosmonauts made a significant input in the design of a human-computer interface for the IDS of the Soyuz-TMA, the first spacecraft controlled by a personal computer. They succeeded in defending a conservative approach to the design of this interface.

Gerovitch: Did any institutes of the Academy of Sciences participate in the design of IDS? Did their suggestions influence design decisions?

Tiapchenko: Several institutes carried out engineering-psychology research of the effectiveness of operator work with proposed IDS and controls, evaluated various methods of human-machine interaction, developed ergonomic requirements for IDS as a whole and for individual components. The Pavlov Institute carried out research on optimization of the design and technical characteristics of compact hand controllers for spacecraft guidance. Russia was the first in the world to introduce a hand controller instead of a control column. This was possible only after extensive research done on simulators and centrifuges.

The Psychology Faculty of Moscow State University studied characteristic of human information reception, developed methods and criteria for evaluation of information display devices, control devices, information representation methods, and so on.

The Medical Faculty of Moscow State University carried out experiments on human locomotion. They obtained more precise data about finger, hand and elbow joints. G.B. Korenev of the Moscow Physical Technical Institute, in turn, used these data to develop a more accurate model of human locomotion.

The Department of Higher Nervous Activity of the Biological Faculty of Moscow State University for many years studied the principles of designing manual control systems with the hierarchical selection method. This research resulted in the concept of step-by-step development of such systems. This concept was implemented in the IDS for the Mir space station, the International Space Station, the Zond spacecraft, the N1-L3, and the Soyuz-TMA.

A number of institutes worked on methods of evaluating the psycho-physiological condition and methods of controlling this condition. Particular attention was paid to detecting and eliminating drowsiness.

Gerovitch: What was the role of Sergei Darevskii as an engineer and as an administrator? Did his personal preferences make an impact on the design of the first spacecraft IDS?

Tiapchenko: He was a very talented organizer; he had an amazing intuition for innovation. For him, there existed no problems that could not be solved. He had wonderful memory and a well-developed analytical mind, and he caught new ideas literally in mid-air and tried to implement them right away. This happened constantly.

He created a new type of organization. In those days, working under the Ministry of Aviation Industry, one could defend a new approach only by perseverance, fanatic persistence, skillful maneuvering among the top leadership, and by bringing the Party apparatus on one's side. Darevskii was one of the few who managed to gain support in the apparatus of the Party Central Committee, despite the fact that local Party activists at the Flight Research Institute raised the question of expelling him from the Party.

In the early years, he skillfully arranged cooperation with other firms, and he paid close attention to the organization of support from academic researchers in design projects. He was the first to put forward the idea of a unified instrument board, and he did everything to implement this idea not only in cosmonautics, but also in aviation.

He paid close attention to propaganda of scientific achievements. Under his supervision, seminars on IDS were launched, and conferences were organized. He took an active part in the organization of national scientific research projects in ergonomics. In the first government resolution on this issue, his Specialized Experimental Design Bureau (abbreviated as SOKB) of the Flight Research Institute (abbreviated as LII) was assigned the lead role in these projects. However, after he was relieved of his duties as head of the Bureau, the lead role was reassigned to the Flight Research Institute. In the text of the resolution, the acronym "SOKB" was simply crossed out, and the LII remained.

Darevskii played a prominent role in the Council of Chief Designers of IDS. Thanks to him, this Council was created and worked continuously through all the changes in the political regime.

He also had some character traits that were unpleasant for people working with him. However, after all these years, one can safely conclude that these traits could not have done greater harm than his actual removal from the leadership in the field he created.

Gerovitch: What were the relations between Darevskii and Korolev? Did Korolev participate in technical discussions related to IDS design?

Tiapchenko: Korolev treated Darevskii with great respect. Once Darevskii had to request a personal meeting to explain a new approach to the design of IDS. This happened during the work on the IDS for a spacecraft with artificial gravity. In that IDS, contrary to the request of Korolev's firm, we proposed a matrix method of control object selection. This proposal made it possible to solve the problem of information display and satisfy the set requirements for reliability, weight, and power efficiency. A transition to this new system required, however, significant changes in the onboard complex control system. Certain departments of the Energia Corporation [then the Experimental Design Bureau No. 1] openly opposed this change, and we had to appeal to Korolev himself. He accepted our proposal, and in a shortest period a transition was made to a new generation of IDS. Generally, Korolev took the problem of human on board very seriously. He provided huge support for the establishment of a new research field at the Flight Research Institute, the field proposed and led by Darevskii.

Gerovitch: According to the candidate cosmonaut Valentina Ponomareva's recollections, the design of the hand controller on the Vostok spacecraft differed significantly from the design of a regular aircraft control column. The back-and-forth movement had the same function on both: it regulated the pitch. The functions of the right-to-left movement, however, turned out to be different: on aircraft it was the roll (if the column is pushed to the left, the aircraft rolls to the left), while on Vostok it was the yaw (if the controller is pushed to the left, the nose of the aircraft turns to the left). The roll on Vostok was controlled with the rotating knob of the hand controller - the third axis, which, as Ponomareva thought, could have been used to control the yaw (which on aircraft was controlled by pedals). As a pilot, she was used to the regular aircraft hand controls and had difficulty adjusting to the new design. Why was this specific design solution chosen for the spacecraft hand controller?

Tiapchenko: Aircraft are controlled according to the laws of aerodynamics, while spacecraft are controlled according to the laws of rocket technology and celestial mechanics. Aircraft have a two-axis hand control column, which, along with the aircraft engines, controls movement in all directions. On spacecraft, three-axis hand controllers are used. To control the position of a spacecraft with respect to its own axes and its longitudinal movement, one needs two three-axis hand controllers. As you can see, there is a huge difference right there.

On Vostok, the hand controller is located roughly parallel to the longitudinal axis, while an aircraft control column is located perpendicular to the longitudinal axis [see the Vostok-Mercury comparison page]. On aircraft, the pilot looks forward through the cockpit glass, while on spacecraft the cosmonaut looks at the Earth downwards through an observation porthole (on Vostok, this optical orientation device was called Vzor). The hand controller was designed in such a way that the movements of the spacecraft would correspond closely to the direction of the hand movement. If the hand controller is located parallel to the longitudinal axis, the right-to-left movement of the hand should correspond to the right-to-left movement of the spacecraft nose (the yaw), and the rotating knob should correspond to the rotation of the spacecraft (the roll).

There could be no mistake here, since this design was developed by experts in aviation technology in consultation with the well-known test pilot Mark Gallai and with specialists from the Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine and from the Zhukovskii Air Force Academy. The first group of cosmonauts participated in the evaluation of this system. All their suggestions were taken into account.

Gerovitch: Did any cosmonauts later complain about this design?

Tiapchenko: Let me quote the leading specialist in spacecraft simulator design Dr. Evgenii Konstantinovich Nikonov, a senior researcher at the Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Equipment. He recalls training sessions on the TDK- 7K simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center:

The cosmonaut Georgii Beregovoi was the first to point out to me that the yaw and the roll controls were rearranged. I remember how he climbed into a simulator cabin and asked me bluntly, in his usual manner: "Listen, I am controlling the yaw, and the picture is rotating like I were controlling the roll. What is this?" I answered by quoting the stand-up comedian Arkadii Raikin: "'Forget the induction, just give me production.' Forget words like the yaw, the roll, and all the thetas and the gammas from technical manuals and instructions. Those were written by engineers in a hurry under deadlines, and they did not know engineering psychology (there was no ergonomics back then). Just look: you push the controller to the left, and the picture goes to the left, correct? You rotate the knob, and the picture rotates, correct? Then all this must be correct!" He thought it over and understood. Later other cosmonauts also came to me for explanations.

There were also many questions about the orientation and approach modes. The orientation hand controller was called RUO; previously it was called RUP-2M (the right hand controller). In the orientation mode, pushing this controller to the left makes the spacecraft rotate about the longitudinal axis (the roll); that is, the picture in the porthole goes to the left. If you switch from the orientation mode to the approach control mode, the onboard control system would switch to a different mode of processing the electrical signals from the controller. The same hand controller, without changing its location, would then change its functions: pushing it to the left would make the spacecraft rotate about the perpendicular axis (the yaw), while the picture in the porthole would again go to the left (because the optical channels in the porthole would at the same time be switched with a turning prism). All this is done in order to preserve the correspondence between the hand movement and the movement of a picture visible through the porthole.

This is a very telling example, since Beregovoi also played a role in other significant events. The IDS that we designed included many innovations, which were quickly accepted by younger cosmonauts but criticized by more experienced pilots. Beregovoi was the first to give a negative evaluation of command-signal devices and finger controllers. The rejection of command-signal devices stopped the further development of IDS for more than thirty years. Finger controllers are currently used on all space ships without exception. Of course, this is not the best solution, and now we have more successful designs, but those finger controllers have really paved the road toward the design of "lateral" controllers on modern aircraft.

Gerovitch: How did the design of hand controllers for Soviet spacecraft evolve?

Tiapchenko: We always tried to coordinate hand movements with the movements of the object of control. For example, on the space ship Soyuz-7K we decided at first not to install an additional three-axis hand controller for longitudinal movement for this very reason. In order to control one of the axis, we added a tumbler switch. Later we designed a hand controller in which longitudinal movement was controlled by pulling out the controller or by pushing it in. It was obviously best to locate such a controller parallel to the longitudinal axis of the spacecraft. This new controller was never used on a space ship or a space station. After the closing of the Almaz program, all work on hand controllers at the Bureau of Spacecraft Technology was terminated. The specialists in this field had to look for a job in other departments of the Institute of Aviation Equipment or elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was a typical project outcome in Soviet space ergonomics.

Gerovitch: The hand controller on the Mercury spacecraft bears more similarity to aircraft controls than that on Vostok (see the Vostok-Mercury comparison page). Did Soviet engineers take into account information about American designs?

Tiapchenko: At the beginning, we had no access to American sources on piloted space vehicles. Several types of information display systems, including hand controllers, were developed in the Soviet Union independently. Later on, it turned out that the design of hand controllers in aviation advanced much more rapidly than in cosmonautics.

Gerovitch: Who was the author of the idea to introduce a hand controller?

Tiapchenko: The idea to introduce electric remote control and a compact hand controller belonged to Dmitrii Nikolaevich Lavrov, a talented engineer and organizer. He worked at Darevskii's laboratory at a branch of the Flight Research Institute. Lavrov also proposed the design of an integrated chronometer and the layout of an instrument board on the Vostok space ship. He was the first to study seriously the human-machine problem. He created a unique inspired group, which included professional designers, human engineering experts, and other specialists.

Gerovitch: Thank you very much for the interview.

See also essays by Yurii Tiapchenko:

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: An Overview

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: Generations I and II

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: Generations III, IV and V

Information Display Systems for the MIR Space Station and the Soyuz Transport Ship

Information Display Systems for Soyuz-TMA and the International Space Station


site last updated 25 August 2006 by Slava Gerovitch