Systems Engineering Seminar

Human Health and Performance for a Mission to Mars:
How NASA Does It, How NASA Should do It

Presented by:
Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery
The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine

Thursday, May 3, 2018, 1:00 pm
Building 3 Auditorium


Mark Shelhamer, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Chief Scientist, NASA Human Research Program (2013-2016)

Any human exploration-class space flight is inherently complex. A successful mission involves the proper interaction of the "system-of-systems" of individual physiology and psychology, crew teamwork, vehicle and habitat design and function, ground-control communications, mission rules and goals, and many other factors. NASA has a very strong plan to assess and mitigate many of the individual physiological, psychological, and medical risks. However, this plan falls short in not explicitly addressing interactions between disciplines: the individual risk factors are investigated and implemented by experts in each discipline, with little or no systematic cross-disciplinary integration. (This problem is not unique to NASA; it is ubiquitous in biomedical research.) Here I present the current approach that the NASA Human Research Program (HRP) takes to the problems of human health and performance in long-duration space flight. Then I outline some of the shortcomings of this existing approach, and propose a systematic mechanism to capture and analyze the multi-disciplinary aspects that makes up a human space flight. This new approach is based on complex-systems theory and complex networks. Properly implemented, it can not only help maintain performance but also provide astronaut crews with needed autonomy and the tools to detect latent problems before they become dangerous and possibly intractable.


Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery
The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine

Dr. Shelhamer is on the faculty of Johns Hopkins where he started as a postdoctoral fellow in 1990. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Drexel University, and a doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering from MIT. At MIT he worked on sensorimotor physiology and modeling, including the study of astronaut adaptation to space flight. He then moved to Johns Hopkins where he continued the study of sensorimotor adaptation with an emphasis on the vestibular and oculomotor systems. He has applied nonlinear dynamical analysis to the control of eye movements, including investigations of the functional implications of fractal activity in physiological behavior. In parallel with these activities, he has had support from NASA to study various aspects of sensorimotor adaptation to space flight, amassing a fair amount of parabolic flight ("weightless") experience in the process. He also serves as an advisor to the commercial spaceflight industry on the research potential of suborbital space flight. Dr. Shelhamer is the author of Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology: A State-Space Approach, has published over 80 scientific papers, and has had research support from NIH, NSF, NASA, NSBRI, and the Whitaker Foundation. From 2013 to 2016 he was on leave from his academic position to serve as Chief Scientist for the NASA Human Research Program at the Johnson Space Center. In this role, he oversaw NASA's research portfolio to maintain human health and performance in long-duration space flight.


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