Oct. 18, 1997 Even after each pilot astronaut makes 500 practice landings with a training aircraft that simulates the Space Shuttle Orbiter, landing the actual Shuttle for the first time is a challenging task. To assist future Shuttle pilots, NASA will install new, intelligent software in the training aircraft to make its approach and landing 'feel' even more like a Shuttle landing.
"Tests of the smart software in simulators on the ground with the Shuttle Training Aircraft hardware were extremely successful, proving that the trainer airplane using new computer coding will seem a lot more like a Shuttle as it comes in and lands. Landing an orbiter for the first time will seem a lot more familiar to astronauts," said Dr. Hamid Berenji, software project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.
The improvements are detailed in a technical paper recently presented in Barcelona, Spain. Authors were Berenji and Dr. Ping-Wei Chang, computer scientists at Ames, and Steven R. Swanson of the Shuttle Training Branch at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.
"In keeping with one of NASA's major goals to increase flight safety, the new software could be used to improve all kinds of simulators, from airplanes to simulations done in special machines," said Berenji.
"We think private pilots, commercial pilots and even people learning to operate new machines could greatly benefit if the software is used to improve training simulators," he explained.
The new software to be installed in the Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft refines the 'rules' that onboard computers use to simulate the Orbiter's descent from 35,000 feet to landing.
The special software uses a form of 'adaptive fuzzy logic' that programs a computer with words as well as with numbers, explained Berenji. In addition, it uses 'neuro fuzzy logic' to learn by experience, changing the patterns it uses to make decisions.
Berenji says the new software is closer to human thinking than previous software, and computers equipped with neuro fuzzy logic can accurately be called rudimentary mechanical brains.
Ground tests show that the trainer aircraft will handle about 20 percent better than before, according to Berenji. This equals a 69 percent error reduction. "We expect that new astronaut-pilot confidence will be much higher," he said. "That means Shuttle safety will be improved, too," he added.
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