“Astronauts have to be very resilient human beings”

Interview with Suzanna Randall, Astronaut and Keynote Speaker at Command Control 2020

Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall is currently undergoing preparation as one of two candidates for the first flight of a German woman into space as part of the private initiative “The first German female astronaut”. Before this takes place in 2021, she will give a keynote speech on “Cyber Resilience and Trust in Space” at Command Control on March 4, 2020. In the run-up to this event, we spoke to her about the topic of resilience.

This year's Command Control has “cyber resilience” as its central topic. What role does resilience play in space missions?

Randall: In my view, resilience plays an extremely important role in space. It starts with the fact that on the ISS most critical things come in threes. This means, for example, that the most important systems can fail twice before things get really critical. In this respect, the ISS as a system is extremely resilient. In addition, the astronauts—as humans—also have to be extremely resilient. For example, they have to be able to respond extremely fast to critical situations and make the right decisions under high pressure. This also includes being able to recover from any shock situations as fast as possible and return to a “normal state”.

Is the crew given special training to build up their resilience in the run-up to a mission?

Randall: No, there is no specific resilience training. However, resilience implicitly plays a major role in many basic training courses. A good example of this is the pilot's license, which is part of astronaut training. In the process, you learn to continuously go through various checklists and always keep a lookout for anything going wrong anywhere in the system. On top of that, we train in how to recover from all kinds of “out of the ordinary” situations as quickly as possible. First and foremost, resilience is therefore conveyed through various practical training sessions. What’s more, it is essential that astronauts are in absolute perfect health both physically and mentally.

Cybersecurity is also a matter of risk management. What role does risk management play in a space mission or in the preparations?

Randall: We think a lot about the risks. The highest risk is clearly during take-off and landing. This is why the probability of risk plays a major role in the construction of the space shuttles. For instance, when developing the Space X spacecrafts, NASA's requirement, to my knowledge, was that they were designed to include a “loss of crew” risk ratio of 1:200. In other words, the likelihood of a spacecraft exploding during launching or landing and the entire crew dying in the process had to be less than 1:200. Compared to a scheduled flight this is obviously very high, but it is still much better than previous missions. Safety is therefore very much a priority. Nevertheless, the reality is not always easy to predict. Whether the risk is really 1:200 can only be said with certainty after you have flown two hundred times.

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