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Space Future has been on something of a hiatus of late. With the concept of Space Tourism steadily increasing in acceptance, and the advances of commercial space, much of our purpose could be said to be achieved. But this industry is still nascent, and there's much to do. this space.
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H Wichman, December 1995, "Designing User-Friendly Civilian Spacecraft", Proceedings of the 6th International Space Conference of Pacific Basin Societies ( ISCOPS), 6-8 December 1995, AAS Vol. 91 Paper No. AAS 95-604.
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Designing User-Friendly Civilian Spacecraft
Harvey A Wichman
This paper addresses some of the human factors considerations involved in the design of two passenger compartments for the McDonnel Douglas Delta Clipper reusable rocket. One passenger compartment was designed for four-day orbital flights and one for suborbital flights of less than an hour duration. After the vehicle is described, civilian passenger issues specific to both orbital and suborbital rocket flights are addressed. Social, environmental and ergonomic differences between long-duration airliner flight and orbital rocket flight are characterized and solutions are suggested for a number of the problems that are specific to space tourism. This work clarifies the need for engineers and psychologists to work together as integrated elements of design teams in order to develop effective environments for civilian space travel.

For the past two and one-half years my laboratory has been involved with the design of spacecraft for civilian travel. McDonnell Douglas Aerospace has proposed a new single-stage-to-orbit rocket which they have called the Delta Clipper (NASA's new designation for Delta Clipper class spacecraft is the X-33) which could carry civilian passengers. Figure 1 is an artist's rendering of what a Delta Clipper might eventually look like in preparation for flight.

Figure 1 Artist's rendering of the Delta Clipper

The idea is to develop a rocket that is essentially as reusable as a modern commercial airliner. Such rockets are often referred to as RLVs -- reusable launch vehicles. McDonnel Douglas Aerospace has already developed, and flown several times, the prototype of a reusable single-stage-to-orbit rocket. The suborbital prototype rocket is called the DC-X, for Delta Clipper Experimental.

Figure 2 The DC-X at its Rollout Ceremony

The primary motive for this new rocket program is to reduce the cost of putting things into orbit around the earth. Right now it costs about $20,000 per kilogram to put something in space or about $1,682,000 for a 185 pound man with no luggage. The markets for surveillance satellites such as weather and mapping satellites, navigation satellites such as the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system that is coming on line in aviation and will soon be widely available for automobiles, and world wide cellular telephone and data communications that are still in the planning stages are driving this new interest in low cost access to space. But space tourism will not be far behind. If we can generalize from experiences in the early days of aviation, as soon as reasonably reliable transportation is available for a cost similar to current round-the-world steamship cruises, there will be a steady stream of customers that will grow exponentially as the cost keeps coming down.

Teams from my lab studied the requirements for civilian space flight and designed two passenger cabins for the Delta Clipper. The first cabin was designed for a four-day trip in low earth orbit (1). The second passenger cabin was designed for the same rocket but this time the rocket and its passenger cabin were to be used for suborbital flights (2). That is, instead of going up some 200 miles and orbiting, the same vehicle might only go up 53 miles, then turn horizontally and accelerate to 13,500 mph for five minutes and then begin a descent to land. A flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo would take about 40 minutes and one to Paris would take about 38 minutes. Figure 3 depicts the orientation of a passenger seat during a Delta Clipper flight.

Figure 3 Orientation of Cylindrical Module and Seats in the Delta Clipper on the Ground and in Flight

The passengers in a space terminal enter and are seated in a self contained cylindrical passenger module that is loaded aboard the rocket only minutes before takeoff (3). The passenger module size we had to work with was a cylinder 15 feet in diameter and 30 feet long -- about like the interior of a small airliner. A transporter carries the module from the terminal to the vertically standing rocket which will be almost ready for departure. The passenger module is lifted up to near the middle of the rocket and endwise it is inserted horizontally through the open cargo bay doors. Final utilities connections are made and the doors closed. The passengers sit upright facing one of the walls in terraced rows as in a theater. The rocket will take off vertically and the passengers must be on their backs for this so as not to be seriously stressed by the 3-g acceleration forces. About one minute prior to takeoff the whole cabin cylinder will rotate 90 degrees so that all passengers are on their backs in their special chairs (see Figure 3). The rocket will take off and either go to space or to its suborbital cruising altitude where it will pitch over to a horizontal position and the passengers will be oriented in an upright position relative to the horizon -- just as in an airplane. When the vehicle begins its descent it glides in a slightly nose-up attitude (11 degrees above the horizon) which will feel very normal to the passengers -- g loads on descent are small, not over 1.5-g. A twelve hundred mile-long steep glide path will bring the vehicle to its landing site. There it will pitch up with its nose pointing vertically, come to a stop and hover on the thrust of its restarted engines. Landing legs will be lowered and the vehicle will back down and land the way the moon landers did in the Apollo program. When the nose of the vehicle is pointed skyward the passengers will once again be on their backs for the landing. After landing, the cylinder will rotate 90 degrees, returning the passengers to an upright position in which they will await the transporter that will take them in their module to the terminal (4).


NASA has accumulated extensive knowledge about human spaceflight and makes it readily available to the community that has paid for it. But NASA has had to face so many unknowns of a mechanical or physical nature that whenever possible NASA has dealt with human problems by selecting only the hardiest people as astronauts and then training them for as long as it took to be able to do what was needed. For instance, they test astronaut candidates for claustrophobia and only accept as astronauts those who exhibit no symptoms. One NASA exercise is quite a severe test. The candidate is zipped into a 36-inch diameter coated cloth sphere and left for some period after which the candidate must trust that he or she will be removed. In addition, the rigorously selected astronauts then train, on the average, two years in preparation for each flight.

Clearly, if space tourism is to flourish, spaceflight will have to be much more like airline flights than NASA flights. The vast majority of the population is able and willing to fly in commercial airliners. The simple training that airlines provide for passengers is brief, beginning when the plane leaves the gate and ending before takeoff or soon after, and consists of teaching about seat belts, life preservers, exits and oxygen masks. The big question for my team was, how closely can this be approximated for commercial spaceflight?

One of the primary tasks for us was to determine how much the current massive pre-spaceflight preparations could be reduced and how broad a spectrum of the population can have space flight made available to them.


We analyzed the ways in which flying in space would be different from flying in an airliner and determined that there are three primary differences:

  1. the duration of the flights,
  2. weightlessness,
  3. the risk and novdty associated with rockets and spaceflight.

These three differences may not seem like much but they are quite profound and in just the manner that seems to always manifest itself when studying living systems -- it often is not the main effects of variables that are important but the ways in which they interact (5).

The method used in this work was threefold in nature. First, we read everything we could find on the behavior of people in spaceflight and other severe environments such as submarines, Antarctic research stations, and undersea habitats. Second, we talked to astronauts who have been in spaceflight. And third, we developed scenarios about what might happen or would have to happen and then worked our way backwards to determine how one would have to prepare for these events. In the end we determined that most of the people who are able to fly in commercial airliners could probably fly to space in a rocket, but it would take an intensive 48-hour period of training to assure that this would not only be a safe journey but a pleasant one as well.

Consider the ways in whlch spaceflight differs from airliner flights. Currently the durations of the longest aircraft flights are from about 11 to sometimes 14 hours. During that long a time people must be fed, must ingest a considerable volume of liquid, must have opportunities to urinate and defecate, and need to be able to move around a bit because cramping is one of the most serious discomforts of air travel. Finally, if the flight is to be at all pleasurable the passengers must be entertained. First of all, note that cramping is not a problem for spaceflight. Cramping occurs when blood vessels which are partially collapsed by the weight of a person in a seat cannot adequately refresh tissues with fresh arterial blood and remove the pooling venus blood. But in space flight people are weightless and this type of event simply does not occur. From a designer's point of view this is a wonderful problem not to have. In fact, seats in space are a real nuisance and are seldom used. So the seats we designed were only designed for about one hour's use on the whole four-day trip. Once in space they would be collapsed to get them out of the way. Space, it turns out is a very rehabilitative environment for all the ailments that are associated with gravity such as aches and pains caused by loads on the body's joints. Figure 4 shows what a relaxed in weightlessness and what the same person relaxed in earth's gravity person looks like when looks like when standing

Figure 4 A Relaxed Person in Space and Standing on Earth

The relaxed body position in weightlessness is called the neutral body position -- the position into which one is pulled by the natural tension of muscles and tendons when no other forces are acting on the body. On earth it is the position of one's body when floating in salt water. Astronauts tell us that this is a very pleasant state of being. It is the position in which one sleeps in space and, as such, it presents a problem in that one's arms float up in a zombie-like position which is perceived as eerie and unpleasant to look at. NASA deals with that by providing light-weight mummy type sleeping bags that restrain the arms. Our design will have people sleep in berths where they can't be seen by others who are awake so this should be no problem.

An issue that NASA has not had to deal with, nor do airlines deal with it, but which will be important in civilian space flight is a sensitive subject to write about but it is part of the rationale for having berths. The subject is sex. Airlines don't feel an obligation to provide couples with the opportunity for sex, even on flights that are a half a day in length. But nearly every couple that flies for four days as space tourists will want to become members of space's equivalent of the Mile High Club. A passenger cabin that doesn't make that easily possible will be a great disappointment. From an ergonomic point of view managing the integrated precision and robust rhythmic activity of coitus in a weightless environment is a serious challenge. For instance, restraining one of the partners with straps has certain bizarre cultural connotations and of course there is no one correct position that the two bodies should be placed in. Our lab teams were able to design various kits of clamp-on padded hand grips and bars that a leg or the back of a knee joint can be wedged beneath. If these are provided with each berth they will probably meet the needs of most couples and the participants may even enjoy expressing their own ingenuity in setting up a workable arrangement.

Berths will be important as sick bays for those who become ill and want to be alone. Astronauts have assured us that about half of the passengers who go to space will become ill for about two days with the space equivalent of motion sickness. Vomiting in an environment in which nothing falls down can not be tolerated. The consequences of getting vomitus into air filters, fans, and inside various types of apparatus could be devastating. The possibility of six or more passengers being ill at the same time in such a small environment requires that training for dealing with nausea be a significant part of preflight preparations.

Berths will also be important as places in which to change clothes and to allow some persons to sleep while others are up and about. People don't sleep as long in space -- more like six hours a night than eight hours. In addition, and this may be among the most important attributes of berths, they provide for territorial needs. The literature from the Soviet cosmonauts and our interviews with U.S. astronauts are very clear on this issue. People spending four days enclosed in a small compartment not only need opportunities for privacy but they will need a place to call their own --remember their seats have been collapsed. We have a good literature on berths -- they were popular on trains and in early transoceanic flights on the famous Pan American Airlines Clipper planes. With their heavy cloth curtains they provided excellent visual isolation, modest auditory isolation, and an easy entry and exit that diminished claustrophobic responses. But, like so many things on earth, they worked because gravity pulling on the weighted cloth caused the curtains to hang down. Curtains won't work in weightlessness where there is no down so we devised solid rectangular structures that were hinged and could be collapsed and easily stowed. By erecting the structures over the collapsed chairs we secure the territory to which the person has become accustomed and the structures have access to power for lights and fans and the personal entertainment center that is part of each chair.

Fans for the berths is a particularly important issue in space flight. On earth, as air is warmed by coming in contact with our bodies or having been breathed in and out -- or as it comes in contact with the heated electronics in an electric clock or a radio. The warmed air expands and rises. It rises because the air at lower levels is more dense because of the weight of the air above compressing it -- again an effect of gravity. These rising air currents that serve us so well and unobtrusively on earth are called convection currents. In weightlessness convection currents do not exist and it would be very easy for air to stagnate and become toxic, Therefore, any air that is to be moved must be moved mechanically and this fact alone means that spacecraft are always noisy environments -- for instance, the shuttles average about 72 dbA in orbit.

Discussing how air fails to rise in weightlessness and the noisiness of a spacecraft may not seem psychologically important but it is. The passengers must be made aware of the convection current problem so they don't get themselves in some isolated cozy spot on board, which would be perfectly delightful on earth, and then suffocate. As for noise, it is different from the noise problem on airplanes. On airplanes everyone is lined up facing the same direction and people seldom interact with anyone other than those seated adjacently. But in a spaceflight people will be moving around in all imaginable positions and nearly everyone in the group will have to interact with most of the others at some times. In a noisy environment many older people will have difficulty separating signal and noise when spoken to. It really helps to see the lips of the person to whom one is listening, especially if the person is not speaking in his or her native language. On earth, when people talk to each other, they are all right-side-up. But in space it is easy to be oriented in opposite directions. It is confusing to see the lip movements, and listen to, someone who is speaking to you while upside down. So people have to be trained to orient themselves to the people with whom they will interact.

Suppose a person leaves a seat on an airliner to go to the lavatory. The person will walk down the aisle and perhaps encounter another person. The two of them will stop and find a way to get around one-another. However, in space one can't walk. Moving about is called translating. One pushes off in the direction one is going and continues with whatever velocity was imparted at shove-off. Now if this person and another person meet they are drifting in the air and cannot stop and will collide. Such collisions could be dangerous so people must be trained to look in all directions before pushing off. The Russians found that they had to train cosmonauts so that persons translating oriented themselves to the person being passed. On earth there is no reasonable way to pass one another oriented fanny-to-face but it is easy in weightlessness and it turns out that the person being passed feels affronted.

We designed the 15 x 30 foot cylindrical cabin for the four-day spaceflight to accommodate 12 passengers and two flight attendants. Like the rockets that, for years have carried Cosmonauts to and from the Russian space stations, these rockets will be autonomously controlled. That is, the only crew will be cabin attendants and the remote controllers on the ground. Fourteen people spending four days in a structure of this size may seem like pretty cramped quarters. But as Freedman has shown in the research that led to his developing of the Density Intensity Hypothesis crowding is not necessarily aversive (6). The Density Intensity Hypothesis states that whatever emotional state is extant when crowding occurs will be enhanced by the crowding. If people are happy then crowding intensifies happiness, if sad or frightened it intensifies those emotional states. This is evident at almost any happy gathering. People can have a whole house at their disposal and still they will end up jammed into two or three rooms happily interacting in close proximity. What is needed is to get the group in space happy and keep them happy.

The passenger cabin is designed so as to have two rooms, one about 20 feet long and one about 10 feet long. A pressure bulkhead will exist between the rooms so that, in an emergency that might threaten depressurization of one room, everyone could get into the other room and seal themselves off for a quick return to earth. This would be the spaceflight equivalent of having drop-down oxygen masks in airliners. Both rooms will have independent life support systems, either of which is capable of supporting both sides, and they will have crossover capability to provide safety through redundancy. The smaller room will have the lavatory and a shower. Designing toilets and showers for an environment in which nothing falls down is very demanding. Even after the best efforts at making these devices as much like their terrestrial counterparts as possible there are differences and these require that people have preflight training to use the devices. Space toilets aren't too much different to use than earth units -- there is a toilet seat with a seat belt which is needed to hold one on. Urine and solid waste are collected separately for both men and women -- use of that apparatus is taught easily, and air drawn beneath the toilet seat moves waste matter toward a squirrel cage fan that is drawing the air in. One type of toilet deposits the waste in a container that is removed and stored; another type sprays the waste on the inside of a sphere and freeze dries it to the consistency of banana chips. The shower works by having a grill at the base beneath which a fan draws air down through the top of the shower stall. Water is sprayed on the body from a hand held nozzle with a trigger. As the squirted water ricochets about inside the stall the flowing air entrains it and moves it to the base. The problem is that a person holding a nozzle and discharging water is holding onto a tiny water rocket motor and will also start bouncing off the walls, so a circular rubber donut is provided at the base of the shower beneath which one wedges his or her toes to gain stability. The point is that spaceflight apparatus can be made to work much like its earthly Counterparts but there are enough differences so that some serlous preflight training is required.

Figure 5 Scale Model of The Passenger Compartment For Orbital Flight

The smaller of the two rooms will also have the cabin's entry hatch in its end cap and there will be windows arranged in a circle around the entry hatch (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Windows arranged around a hatch

Besides the safety feature of the two compartments, they also serve an important function in helping balance differing needs for community and privacy among the passengers. Most of the passengers will be awake and asleep at the same times but these times do not overlap perfectly and having one room where some can be up and about while most are asleep may be very important. This also allows two different events to be going on at the same time without interference. The small room will be popular because it will be where the windows are located. when the cargo bay doors are opened on the rocket the end of the passenger module will look out at the earth below.

Eating as we know it on earth works pretty well in space but important new etiquette must be learned. For example, one usually does not sit to eat in space, because sitting is not particularly comfortable since there is no gravity to pull one into compliance with the shape of a chair. Holding oneself in the sitting position by continual contraction of abdominal and leg muscles is tiring. Even loose items such as peas can be eaten if one is careful not to move the spoon in a jerky fashion. But astronauts tell us that sloppy eaters are very repulsive crew mates. We all make occasional errors when eating and drop things. The carpets beneath tables are stained in even the best of restaurants. But in space things don't drop. They just drift away in the air currents. Liquid is drunk through straws from sealed containers. The straws have tiny valves. when one stops drinking it is necessary to close the valve and then suck out any remaining fluid still in the straw above the valve. Otherwise, the fluid which was already moving and so has momentum, will come out of the straw and drift away as a group of blobs held together by their surface tension. Astronauts tell us that finding other people's food and drink drifting by their faces while they are eating is extremely irritating. Fourteen people can not very long live in a 15 x 30 foot tube if they are experiencing much irritation. Mistakes will of course happen, but passengers must be taught to be vigilant and to quickly capture any of their own food or drink that has gotten loose.

It is clear that much of what has to be designed into a training program has to do with social psychology and stress management procedures. New norms have to be developed for this -- not completely different -- but somewhat different environment. Consider for instance some rigious issues. what if a person is supposed to face east when praying? which way is east in space? Or what if prayers are said at sunrise and at sunset, which occurs twice a day on earth and now takes place every 45 minutes? These issues must be faced ahead of time in order to keep people from experiencing unnecessary distress. The two religious issues just mentioned have been dealt with. Muslim leaders have determined that facing the earth is equivalent to facing toward Mecca and when in space one uses sunrise and sunset at the takeoff location as the time for prayers. Keeping some minimum amount of radio or television contact with events that signal the time of day at the takeoff point also allows the passengers to keep their circadian rhythms constant so they don't begin experiencing the equivalent of jet lag with all of the sunsets and sunrises.

Table 1 lists the primary stress management principles that we derived from the literature and have employed in designing a prototype training program for spaceflight.

Table 1 Stress Management Principles Used
  1. Increasing predictability decreases stress.
    [Inform passengers about what to expect]
  2. Increasing perceived control decreases stress.
    [Show passengers how to do things and handle situations]
  3. Performance is an optimum function of arousal (Yerkes-Dodson Law).
    [Teach techniques for maintaining mid-level arousal]
  4. Stressors are best tolerated individually or sequentially.
    [Arrange programmed events to avoid cascades]
  5. Individual needs for privacy and community must be balanced.
    [Structure programs flexibly to accommodate individual differences]
  6. Mildly aversive responses habituate with repetition.
    [Use preflight training to adapt people to each other]

Consider now the passenger compartment for suborbital flights. The ability to go anywhere in the world in 45 minutes has to be an exciting idea and the ability of the Delta Clipper to land vertically means it doesn't have to have large expensive airports with runways and instrument landing systems. For these passengers the flight is so short they do not need meals nor will they have to leave their seats to go to the lavatories. Figure 7 is a photo of a scale model we built showing the interior of the passenger compartment we designed for suborbital flight.

Notice that there are two lavatories. They would only be used while waiting for takeoff and then again after landing while waiting for the transporter to remove the module from the rocket. A liquid source with drinking tube will be available at each chair as will a computerized entertainment center. The video screen for this center will also serve as an artificial window for the seat occupant. There will be no external windows in this module because the cargo bay doors will not be opened in suborbital flight. There will be several video camera scenes available to be chosen from. There is a modest literature available on artificial windows which suggests that these can come very close to serving the function of real windows if cleverly designed - e.g., Ref. (7).

Figure 7 Scale Model of the Passenger Compartment For Suborbital Flight

One of the problems we struggled with was this. Passengers at takeoff are reclining on their backs looking straight up. They will not want to be looking at an upward view in their artificial windows because that will only be blue sky. They will want to watch the launch pad as they move away from it during takeoff. The problem is that they will be looking forward at a scene which their eyes say is going away towards their backs while all of their kinesthetic and labyrinthine senses are telling them they are actually going foreword with great vigor. Unfortunately that is precisely the kind of sensory conflict that causes motion sickness. But the passengers must be able to look outside or they will likely feel very claustrophobic as their general excitement mounts at takeoff. What we searched for is some experience that everyone is already familiar with that produces exactly the same effects but which nearly everyone has adapted to in everyday life. Then if we could somehow make the sensory-visual event in the rocket seem like that one perhaps we could keep the passengers from getting sick. We found just such an event -- looking in the rear view mirror of a car while accelerating to pass another auto. So we designed the artificial window to have an electronic rear view mirror in the upper right-hand corner (it is electronically shifted to the left for British drivers). It is in the mirror that one sees the scene from out back. Once this is established in the passenger's perceptual set, the size of the electronic mirror can be increased by directing a cursor on the screen to the bottom corner of the mirror and pulling the mirror until it is almost the size of the window. In order to insure retention of the perceptual set of looking in a mirror enough window is always left to serve as a clear reminder that the viewer is looking at an expanded mirror.

Another major problem we faced was how to orient passengers in chairs. We didn't solve this problem during the design of the orbiting module but we finally solved it during the work on the suborbital module. In the lab we devised a structure in which a person lay supine in a chair that was mounted with its back on the floor. when we placed people in this chair and asked them to evaluate it as a position for takeoff they rated it as different but satisfactory. Then we added a second chair to the rig that was also in the supine position and mounted directly above the first chair. Persons in the top chair rated it the same as the bottom chair had been rated when it was the only chair. But now we couldn't keep people in the bottom chair long enough to rate it. They panicked and wanted out from there immediately. Clearly something would have to change drastically if we were to have people in rows and then tip them onto their backs for takeoff.

From the literature of environmental psychology we found that a room could be made to seem either larger or smaller by where the perceivers eyes were focused. When eyes are focused at optical infinity the space seems larger than when interspersed objects cause the eyes to focus at shorter distances. This is a trick often used by restaurants that consist of one large room and yet want to be perceived as warm and intimate. Potted plants or other objects are hung from the ceiling. Now as one's eyes scan to what would have been the far side of the building with a far focus, the plants intervene, the eyes reflexively focus on them, and the perceiver has an altered cognition. Instead of the room seeming warehouse-like and cold it now seems more intimate and cozy. So we reasoned that if we reversed this process we might solve our problem. The problem with our simulated passenger in the chair on the bottom might be alleviated by allowing that person to see all the way to the far wall instead of having his or her gaze focussed only inches away on the headrest of the person above. Our problem was that this was too cozy. So we stepped the floor in terraces so that each chair was a little lower than the one behind. When looking straight ahead in this condition, the eyes of everyone focus on the far wall of the cabin. This solved the problem.

The title of this paper is, "Designing User-Friendly Civilian Spacecraft". It is fair to ask, "just what is a user friendly spacecraft"? For a long time to come both airplanes and spacecraft are going to continue to have shortcomings. They will be noisy and confining and have too few lavatories and exercise areas. But a user friendly vehicle will be one which minimizes the effects of these shortcomings. In aircraft in which passengers are all lined up in seats facing the same way, interpersonal interaction is minimized and many potential conflicts are averted. But in a four-day trip to space in which the seats have been stowed interactions will increase exponentially. These interactions can become highlights of the flight or constant irritations that could ruin what may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Engineers, designers, and ergonomists must work together to produce a safe vehicle that provides at least the minimum services for comfort, much as have been described up to now. But once one has toilets, showers, berths, and meal servers that work reasonably well, the variables that will determine the success of the trip will be the concerns of social and environmental psychologists and sociologists.

Earlier it was pointed out that a 48-hour intensive training period would be required before a four-day flight could be undertaken. Only about a third of that time is taken up with training people to use the apparatus in the spacecraft. The rest of the time is given to forming the people into a cohesive group in which each of the people knows the background and intentions of the others and they practice developing new behavioral norms appropriate to weightlessness and confinement. Not all passengers in a group will be in the same age cohort or of the same social status, or ethnicity, or gender, or nationality. If one considers the difficulty families can have in getting along think of the turmoil these kinds of mixes might produce.

In conclusion, consider an illustration of a training item in the prototype training manual that we wrote for McDonnell Douglas (1). Passengers will have to learn about proxemics -- the psychology of personal space. This concept -- that each of us has an invisible bubble of space around us that has special social meanings is very important. In the U.S., from one's body out to about eighteen inches is intimate space, from there out another three feet is personal space and beyond that more public space. Here is an illustration from the courtship ritual in the culture of the U.S.. When a young man and woman develop their relationship to the point that they begin dating each other exclusively the young woman signals this publicly when riding with her boy friend by moving from her side of the seat over to sit close to him. She leaves the far edge of his personal space and moves well into his intimate space. Everyone knows what this means. She will continue to sit in this position while riding with him until the day they are married, after which she will move back to her own side of the seat.

The anthropologist Edward Hall discovered this phenomenon while consulting with American and Arab oil men (8). Arabs complained that it was maddening to talk to Americans while standing because they wouldn't stand still. What Hall came to realize was that, while Arabs and Americans both had intimate spaces, the intimate space of the Arabs was a bubble with a somewhat smaller diameter than that of the Americans. So when an Arab and an American came together to talk they stood the culturally proper distance from each other. Unfortunately, American men stand farther apart than Arabs do. For instance, American men stand just a little too far apart when talking to comfortably touch hands with their outstretched arms so when they shake hands they have to lean slightly forward to reach each other. Since the Arab felt a little too far away from the American he would take a half-step forward to adjust the distance to his cultural norm -- whereupon the American would take a half-step back -- and away they would go.

In an environment with no seats or guiding aisles in which passengers translate in three dimensions and in all possible orientations, people have to be trained to be sensitive to proxemic needs in general and in particular to the individual needs of their fellow passengers.


While spaceflight shares some things in common with airline transportation it clearly has some very significant differences. These differences require some new concepts in social management in space transportation as well as different and more elaborate preflight training. These differences also require some innovations in vehicular design to accommodate them. This paper has served to highlight some of the more salient issues dealt with in this laboratory while working with the Delta Clipper design team.

In the beginning of the space program it was sufficient to design vehicles that allowed astronauts to survive. Later, as technologies improved, it was enough that carefully selected and highly trained astronauts have the minimum comforts to accomplish some useful work. Now however, we stand on the threshold of the age of space tourism and spacecraft will have to be designed to allow terrestrial humans to flourish in space. This will require the development of design teams from a variety of disciplines to bring together the many disparate pieces of information necessary to accomplish a task of such complexity. Many have wondered if it is feasible for industries to successfully manage such complex teamwork. The very successful alliance between this academic laboratory and the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper design team during the past few years is a testament to the fact that such relationships are not only possible but can flourish.


Parts of the work reported here were supported by the James Irvine Foundation, the John R. Snortum Research Fund, and the Claremont McKenna College Practicum Program.

  1. H A Wichman, May 1993, " Proposal for the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper Program", Aerospace Psychology Laboratory technical report, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA.
  2. H A Wichman, June 1994, " Delta Clipper Program Report: Suborbital Flight and Public Attitudes", (Rev. ed.), Aerospace Psychology Laboratory technical report, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA.
  3. H A Wichman and T M Teresi, 1994, " Ergonomics of an Orbital Rocket Passenger Compartment", paper presented at the Western Psychological Association Convention, Kona, Hawaii, April.
  4. H A Wichman and W J Dorsey, 1995, " Ergonomics of a Suborbital Rocket Passenger Compartment", paper presented at the Western Psychological Association Convention, Los Angeles.
  5. H A Wichman and C B Watson, 1994, " Psychological Issues for Future Civilian Space Passengers", paper presented at the Western Psychological Association Convention, Kona, Hawaii.
  6. J L Freedman, 1975, 'Crowding and Behavior', W.H Freeman, San Francisco.
  7. T Ruys, 1970, 'Windowless Offices', Man-Environ. Sys., Vol.1, p.4.
  8. E T Hall, 1966, 'The Hidden Dimension', Doubleday, Garden City, NY.
H Wichman, December 1995, "Designing User-Friendly Civilian Spacecraft", Proceedings of the 6th International Space Conference of Pacific Basin Societies ( ISCOPS), 6-8 December 1995, AAS Vol. 91 Paper No. AAS 95-604.
Also downloadable from user friendly civilian spacecraft.shtml

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