Gerovitch: What are the major problems in the design of information display systems (IDS) for spacecraft?
Tests must confirm that a product meets its specifications.
Gerovitch: Has the experience gained in the design of IDS in other fields been used in the design of IDS for spacecraft?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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: Thank you very much for the interview.
See also essays by Yurii Tiapchenko:
site last updated 25 August 2006 by Slava Gerovitch