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Human factors expert to help guide safety in next generation of space exploration

Douglas Wiegmann

Douglas Wiegmann

Following the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s decommissioning of its 30-year space shuttle program earlier this summer, the agency will be looking in new directions for the future of space exploration.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison expert will help guide that new journey.

In the coming years, Douglas Wiegmann, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, will advise the agency as an outside expert consultant on human factors and mission safety. Human factors engineering, Wiegmann's area of expertise, is the discipline of applying what is known about human capabilities and limitations to process, systems and technology design.

Wiegmann’s research includes accident investigation and human error analysis. He is the author of a book on aviation accident analysis. “The work I’ve done in the past in analyzing the role of human error in accidents is becoming widely used and known,” he says. His work includes collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense. 

This isn’t Wiegmann’s first time working on problems unique to space flight. He consulted for the agency first in 2003, investigating the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

“I think that it’s my general understanding of human error and performance in complex systems that led NASA to approach me,” he says.

He says there are a broad range of human factors that might play a role in aviation or space flight accidents. “Anywhere from just the design standpoint of the aircraft or spacecraft, how decisions are made about mission priorities, and just what sorts of things can break down in the process of designing safe systems from a human operator perspective,” he says.

“I’m flattered to be asked, that NASA thinks I have something to offer the program,” he says. “What the next generation of spaceflight is going to look like, no one knows yet. Being part of something new is kind of exciting.” 

Christie Taylor
8/22/2011