Although Facebook didn’t provide percentages for the male to female ratio, it said men ranked 6.08 on a buzz scale of one to 10, compared to an overall score for women of 4.76.
Using a tool called the Talk Meter, Facebook examined how much buzz the Mars landing generated across the social network and noted trends in age, demographic and location. It tracked search terms such as “Curiosity” and “Mars” and conducted searches during the time period that the rover landed around 10:00 p.m. PT.
“We looked at the increase in the fraction of chatter containing these terms compared to the baseline, which is what the chatter was for these terms one week before,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. “We take the difference in fractions and hit it with a logarithm scale (1-10).”
Although teenagers expressed the least interest in the landing, Facebook said buzz surrounding Curiosity occurred across all adult age ranges. It was most popular among the 25 to 34 age group.
Due to the local timing, chatter was significantly higher in the Western part of the United States with California, Oregon and Washington state bringing in the most general interest on Facebook. But Washington, D.C. — the home of NASA’s headquarters — brought in similar scores to California, and spikes were also seen in Utah and Colorado.
Meanwhile, U.S. Facebook members cheered on their home country’s journey to Mars more than any other nation, bringing in a buzz score of (5.45). Facebook users from Canada (5.37) showed the second most interest, followed by Costa Rica (5.29), New Zealand (4.94), Australia (4.88), China (4.54) and Israel (4.53).
European countries didn’t top the list because most were asleep while the events took place, Facebook noted.
To put those scores in perspective, Facebook did previous analysis on other major events such as the Royal Wedding in the U.K. (8.4), the U.S. Super Bowl (8.7) and the Hunger Games premiere (6.4).
Did you use social media to follow the rover landing? Which sites did you use? Let us know in the comments.
BONUS: Curiosity Lands on Mars: NASA’s Behind the Scenes Images
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano took a jab at Congress for failing to act on cybersecurity during a panel on the subject Monday at the 2012 Social Good Summit.
Congress has so far failed to pass cybersecurity legislation this year. Both chambers have their own versions of cyber bills, but they have yet to pass in the opposite chamber due to a partisan divide on the appropriate role of the government in cybersecurity.
“This has been a very interesting and troubling discussion in Congress,” she said. “It gets to the question which is ‘how does the government, which has overall security responsibly, interact with the private sector when an attack on private sector could have multiple rippling effects throughout the country?’ When you get into this debate, it’s a Washington, D.C. thing about government regulating the private sector.”
A bill supported by many Senate Democrats first called for government-set cybersecurity standards for private businesses deemed crucial to national security, such as power grids. Republicans balked at the idea, deeming it excessive government regulation of private business. The Senate bill was later rewritten to offer a compromise between the two camps, but that version also stalled.
Meanwhile, House Republicans passed their own cybersecurity bill, designed to encourage information-sharing between private businesses, under a veto threat from the White House. That bill hasn’t been passed by the Senate.
Napolitano’s position in this debate is somewhere in the middle: She doesn’t see absolute government regulation as the right answer for cybersecurity, but rather wants to build a cooperative cybersecurity relationship between businesses and the government with some government oversight of crucial industries.
“I think regulation in the traditional sense isn’t the right relationship,” she said. “It has to be one of mutually beneficial partnership and responsibility… if you’re doing the balance statement for a private company, security for others isn’t something you can reflect on your own balance sheet, but it is a responsibility. That’s what government has: responsibility is shared equally.”
She added that Barack Obama is weighing an executive order on cybersecurity — a possible move that privacy experts are watching closely, but a step Napolitano supports.
“Congress wasn’t able to act this year, it got stuck in the regulatory versus non-regulatory dichotomy,” said Napolitano. “The president is considering moving forward with an executive order that would help with this.”
When asked if private businesses would need to experience a cataclysmic cyberattack in order for them and politicians to make progress on cybersecurity, Napolitano said that it would spur progress, but added that’s not her preferable path.
“It’s only going to take one takedown for need for that partnership to become apparent,” she said. “An example from the non-cyber world: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is within the Department of Homeland Security. It became clear after Katrina and the response, or or lack thereof, that it was broken. What’s happened is that we’ve used that crisis to fix FEMA. FEMA is now very agile, astute and target-oriented. That crisis crystallized action.”
“I hope there’s an alternative,” she added. “The problem with [cybersecurity] is that if you have a crisis, first of all it could be multiple crises happening simultaneously, second is that it could have damaging rippling effects that puts life and limb at risk, third is that we don’t have all the protocols in place to deal with a truly massive problem.”
Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:
Seven space technology experiments are slated to blast off Friday on a NASA-funded suborbital research flight.
A SpaceLoft sounding rocket, built by Denver-based UP Aerospace Inc., is scheduled to launch from New Mexico’s Spaceport America between 9 a.m. and noon EDT.
The 15-minute flight is expected to reach a maximum altitude of 74 miles (119 kilometers) and provide up to four minutes of weightlessness for the onboard experiments. Landing is targeted for the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, about 320 miles (515 km) from Spaceport America according to NASA officials.
Among the seven payloads aboard the 20-foot-long (6 meters) rocket is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a tracking device being developed for use in air traffic control systems. Current plans call for all aircraft operating in U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.
Two high school science experiments are also riding along on Friday’s flight, as is Diapason, an instrument developed by DTM Technologies in Italy to study the movement of very tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere. Diapason could help identify and monitor atmospheric pollution and contaminants, NASA officials said.
UP Aerospace isn’t the only company with a NASA contract to make technology-testing suborbital research flights. The space agency has also signed deals with Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.
NASA manages such launches via its Flight Opportunities Program, which matches payloads with flights and pays launch costs (though no funds are provided for development of the payloads). The program should help the burgeoning American private spaceflight industry get off the ground, agency officials say.
“The Flight Opportunities Program fosters the development of the commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry, an important step in the longer-term path that envisions suborbital reusable launch vehicles evolving to provide the nation with much lower-cost, more frequent, and more reliable access to orbital space,” NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program website states.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.
Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.
While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.
“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.
Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.
“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”
As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.
Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).
“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”
Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.
Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.
The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.
Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.
“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”
President Barack Obama’s campaign is taking aim at Mitt Romney on Republican National Convention turf. Today, visitors to the Tampa Bay Times website will see a large expandable ad mocking Romney as a fat cat who outsources jobs away from the U.S. and avoids taxes by hiding his money in offshore accounts.
“Click to see Mitt Romney’s qualifications,” states the ad, which when expanded, mimics a desk cluttered with reminder notes. One suggests that Romney has a meeting with the Koch Brothers, and he should “Book trip to Caymans” to “visit money.”
The Koch Brothers are wealthy industrialists who have been vilified by the left in part for their behind-the-scenes support of groups backing conservatives and Republicans including Romney.
The ads, which appear to be delivered outside of Florida and possibly nationwide, were paid for by the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee.
The ad buy is reminiscent of many the Obama camp ran during the early GOP presidential primary races when splashy Obama ads ran on news sites in states including Iowa and New Hampshire, and could be seen by people across the country rather than just in those particular states.
The message has been reiterated in television spots from the Obama camp and outside groups seen often in key swing states such as here in Florida. While the Obama camp seeks to strengthen support among important voter groups like veterans, young people and LGBT rights supporters, it is also hammering away at Romney’s reputation in the hopes of convincing people that he is disconnected from the middle class.
The TampaBay.com ad links to a page on the official Obama site with video of an ad featuring Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Obama.
Meanwhile, Romney is also running ads on the Tampa site. They’re clearly aimed at his supporters convening here for the RNC. The display ads appear along the bottom of most pages of TampaBay.com and tout, “America’s Comeback Team.” Some encourage supporters to “Get your official gear today,” while some show the #GOP2012 hashtag.
Private spaceflight company SpaceX has been testing its Grasshopper rocket over the past few months, but it set a record last week with its latest launch in which it flew 2,440.94 feet in the air — the vehicle’s highest leap yet.
Using a single camera hexacopter drone, SpaceX was able to get closer than ever to record the video above, which the company released Monday. As the rocket climbed gracefully into the air, the drone camera — which you can see in the right-hand corner of the frame — adjusted to capture the seemingly slow launch. Grasshopper soared in an almost-perfect straight line — quite different from its August launch, when it leapt sideways.
The 10-story-high Grasshopper is one of SpaceX’s most outside-the-box experiments. Most rockets burn up when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, but Grasshopper is a reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle built to withstand these harsh conditions and return to the planet’s surface intact.
Grasshopper holds the first-stage tank of the Falcon 9 rocket, which boosts SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
Inside the Spacesuit: 10 Rare Views of a NASA Icon
Alan Bean Spacesuit
Astronaut Alan Bean wore this A7-LB suit on the 1973 Skylab 3 mission. Bean logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space, including more than 10 hours of EVA (extra vehicular activity). Image: Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
An x-ray of an Apollo-era “overboot” shows the adjustment strap that allowed astronauts to tighten this boot over another shoe that was attached to the spacesuit. Image: Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Astronauts wore special gloves during lunar excursions. Made with rubber and Neoprene interior bladders, gloves covered hands completely to the wrist and were attached to the arms of the spacesuit with aluminum rings. Image: Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
This 1964 A4-H “Universal” helmet was designed to fit on more than one suit. The x-ray reveals ball bearings in the neck ring that allowed the helmet to move right and left without restriction. Image: Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Phase I Apollo Helmet
X-ray of a helmet that was developed for the Phase I Apollo program. Image: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Mark V Spacesuit
The Mark V suit was relatively flexible and incorporated design elements that allowed for a fuller range of movement. Image: Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Apollo Spacesuit Overshoe
X-ray of an extravehicular (EV) overshoe that was designed to be worn over the Apollo spacesuit boots while an astronaut was walking on the Moon. Image: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Alan Shepard’s Apollo 14 Spacesuit
An x-ray of Alan Shepard’s Apollo 14 spacesuit allows curators and conservators to “see” inside space clothing — a task that had previously been done by peering through the neck or the wrist with a flashlight. Image: X-ray by Roland H. Cunningham and Mark Avino
Freedom 7 Spacesuit
Alan B. Shepard, one of the original “Mercury 7,” wore this suit on the first flight of an American astronaut in 1961. Image: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Mark Avino
Test pilots show off the flexibility of the lightweight Mark IV suits with this 1960s baseball demonstration. Image: NASA
SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.
The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.
Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.
SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.
What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
A MQ-9 Reaper drone, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.
Image: AP Photo/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, US Air Force/Associated Press
In an unprecedented decision, a federal appeals court ordered the U.S. government to release a memo detailing the legal justification behind the killing of American citizens by drone strikes overseas.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the government can’t claim the memo needs to be secret anymore, because various U.S. officials have repeatedly acknowledged the so-called targeted drone strikes program in general and the killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011 in particular. This is an addition to a U.S. Department of Justice White Paper, leaked by NBC News and confirmed by DOJ, which explained the legal rationale behind drone strikes.
“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper,” wrote Judge Jon O. Newman in a decision (embedded below), that was made unanimously by a three judge panel in Manhattan.
Monday’s decision overturns a January 2013 lower court ruling that allowed the Department of Justice to keep secret a memorandum that provided the legal justification for the drone strikes that killed three United States citizens in Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric who allegedly had become a prominent Al-Qaeda spokesperson, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.
At the time, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled in favor of secrecy despite the fact that she found herself in a “paradoxical situation” of letting the government claim it was legal to kill Americans outside of declared war zones, while also claiming it can’t reveal the legal reasoning behind that decision.
“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” she wrote.
The lawsuit in Monday’s decision was filed by The New York Times, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the legal memo, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
It’s unclear whether the DOJ will now appeal the decision, and, for now, there’s no timetable for the release of the documents.
Both the Times and the ACLU, however, celebrated the ruling.
“This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in an emailed statement. “The public has a right to know why the administration believes it can carry out targeted killings of American citizens who are located far away from any conventional battlefield.”
“The court reaffirmed a bedrock principle of democracy: The people do not have to accept blindly the government’s assurances that it is operating within the bounds of the law; they get to see for themselves the legal justification that the government is working from,” David McCraw, the Times‘ lawyer, said in a statement.
Here’s the full ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
When NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, reaches Mars in about three weeks, it will not be the first to set its wheels on the Red Planet, but it will be the largest and most advanced robotic explorer that has ever been sent to our planetary neighbor.
The Curiosity rover, also called the Mars Science Laboratory, was launched in late November 2011, and is expected to land on Mars on the night of Aug. 5 PDT (early Aug. 6 EDT). The $2.5 billion rover will touch down at Gale Crater, and is designed to search for clues that Mars could be now, or in the ancient past, a habitable planet for microbial life.
NASA first set its sights on landing on the Red Planet in the 1970s. The agency achieved its first Mars landing in 1976 with the Viking 1 lander. Since then, the agency has had six spacecraft successfully touch down on the Martian surface. But with the impending arrival of Curiosity, NASA will showcase the most sophisticated Martian rover yet.
“The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted in the history of exploration of Mars, or any of our robot exploration,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a news briefing Monday (July 16) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Bigger and better
For starters, the way Curiosity will lower itself to the surface of Mars in less than 20 days is unprecedented. The rover will use a new and complex sky crane system to slow its descent.
According to Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Curiosity’s landing “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration.” [How Curiosity’s Nail-Biting Landing Works (Pictures)]
Previous Mars rovers, such as the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers (collectively known as the Mars Exploration Rovers), used airbags to cushion their landing. Spirit and Opportunity arrived at the Red Planet about three weeks apart in January 2004. Each rover weighs about 384 pounds, but since Curiosity tips the scales at 1 ton, it was deemed too heavy and too large for an airbag-assisted landing.
“The mass of Spirit and Opportunity was just about at the limit for what that airbag design could handle,” McCuistion said.
Spirit and Opportunity were designed for three-month missions on Mars, but both far outlived their warranties. After getting stuck in Martian sand and losing contact with Earth, Spirit was officially declared dead in May 2011. But, Opportunity is still alive and well, and is currently exploring a massive crater, called Endeavour. Since it landed on the Red Planet, Opportunity has logged an impressive 21.4 miles.
Like its two predecessors, Curiosity will be equipped with six wheels with individual driver motors and a suspension system to help it drive up inclines and combat the difficult Martian terrain. But Curiosity will also be able to move faster, with 3.35 miles per hour being its top speed on flat, hard ground. For comparison, Opportunity’s maximum speed is approximately 0.1 miles per hour.
“Mars Science Lab [is the] most challenging mission we’ve ever sent to another planet, and certainly the most challenging we’ve sent to Mars,” McCuistion said. “It truly is a major step forward both in technology and in potential science return and science capability, to unlock the mysteries of Mars in places that have never been accessible to humankind in the past.” [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]
A New Suite of Instruments
Curiosity is designed to perform detailed analyses of Martian rocks and soil, including what lies beneath the surface. The rover is equipped with 10 different instruments that have a collective mass of 165 pounds. Spirit and Opportunity each carried five instruments, totaling 11 pounds.
Curiosity will be able to dig, snap high-definition pictures of Mars, analyze chemical properties of soil and rock samples, study minerals and even blast rocks with a laser to measure their chemical compositions.
As one of the key indicators of potential habitability, Curiosity will investigate the presence of water around Gale Crater.
“Over the last decade-and-a-half of exploration, we have found more water than expected,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Program at NASA headquarters. “With the landing of Curiosity, the adventure begins as we explore the past and present of Gale Crater.”
As NASA prepares for Curiosity’s nail-biting trip through the atmosphere of Mars, mission managers anticipate the huge rover will herald a new age of exploration on the Red Planet and beyond.
“The Mars Exploration Program was designed to create steady progress in both technology and scientific capabilities at other planets,” McCuistion said. “NASA was created to take on big challenges, and that’s what this one is. MSL is forging ahead in greater and greater ways for science and for technology. Robert Kennedy said, ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’ MSL is poised to do great things.”
Air traffic controllers, from left, Kristen Karcz, Bob Francis and Ross Leshinsky work in the tower at Logan International Airport in Boston, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.
Image: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Air traffic controllers are still working schedules known as “rattlers” that make it likely for them to get little or no sleep before overnight shifts, more than three years after a series of incidents involving controllers sleeping on the job, according to a government report released Friday.
A report by the National Research Council expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Federal Aviation Administration’s program to prevent its 15,000 controllers from suffering fatigue on the job, a program that has been hit with budget cuts. The 12-member committee of academic and industry experts who wrote the report at the behest of Congress said FAA officials refused to allow them to review results of prior research the agency conducted with NASA examining how work schedules affect controller performance.
The FAA-NASA research results “have remained in a ‘for official use only’ format” since 2009 and have not been released to the public, the report said.
The committee stressed its concern that controllers are still working schedules that cram five eight-hour work shifts into four 24-hour periods. The schedules are popular with controllers; at the end of their last shift, they have 80 hours off before returning to work the next week. But controllers also call the shifts “rattlers” because they “turn around and bite back.”
An example of the kind of schedule that alarmed the report’s authors begins with two consecutive day shifts ending at 10 p.m. followed by two consecutive morning shifts beginning at 7 a.m. The controller gets off work at 3 p.m. after the second morning shift and returns to work at about 11 p.m. the same day for an overnight shift — the fifth and last shift of the workweek.
When factoring in commute times and the difficulty people have sleeping during the day when the human body’s circadian rhythms are “promoting wakefulness,” controllers are “unlikely to log a substantial amount of sleep, if any, before the final midnight shift,” the report said.
“From a fatigue and safety perspective, this scheduling is questionable and the committee was astonished to find that it is still allowed under current regulations,” the report said. The combination of “acute sleep loss” while working overnight hours when circadian rhythms are at their lowest ebb and people most crave sleep “increases the risk for fatigue and for associated errors and accidents,” the report said.
FAA officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association defended the scheduling, citing the 2009 study that hasn’t been publicly released. The union said in a statement that NASA’s research showed that “with proper rest periods,” the rattler “actually produced less periods of fatigue risk to the overall schedule.”
In 2011, FAA officials and then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised reforms after a nearly a dozen incidents in which air traffic controllers were discovered sleeping on the job or didn’t respond to calls from pilots trying to land planes late at night. In one episode, two airliners landed at Washington D.C.‘s Reagan National Airport without the aid of a controller because the lone controller on the overnight shift had fallen asleep. In another case, a medical flight with a seriously ill patient had to circle an airport in Reno, Nevada, before landing because the controller had fallen asleep.
Studies show most night shift workers, not just controllers, face difficulties staying awake regardless of how much sleep they have gotten. That’s especially true if they aren’t active or don’t have work that keeps them mentally engaged. Controllers on night shifts often work in darkened rooms with frequent periods of little or no air traffic to occupy their attention, conditions scientists say are conducive to falling asleep.
“We all know what happens with fatigue,” said Mathias Basner, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania medical school and the sleep expert on the committee. “The first thing you expect to see is attention going down, reaction time slows, you have behavioral lapses or micro-sleeps. … If you have to react quickly in that situation, that is problematic.”
After the 2011 incidents with falling asleep, the FAA stopped scheduling controllers to work alone on overnight shifts at 27 airports and air traffic facilities and increased the minimum time between work shifts to nine hours.
Another change was the creation of a “fatigue risk management program” for controllers. However, budget cuts “have eliminated the program’s capability to monitor fatigue concerns proactively and to investigate whether initiatives to reduce fatigue risks are providing the intended benefits,” the report said.
Basner said the FAA was making no effort to determine whether there is a correlation between work schedules and controllers errors. For example, there were near collisions between airliners near Honolulu and Houston recently.
On April 25, 2014, a controller failed to notice when two airliners were on a collision course in Honolulu. The pilot of one of the aircrafts had to initiate an abrupt dive to avoid an accident.
In Houston, two planes almost collided during takeoff — the aircraft came within a few hundred feet of each other when a controller told one plane to turn right when it was supposed to turn left.
The FAA and the controllers’ union have established a program that encourages controllers to report errors by promising they won’t be penalized for honest mistakes. The reports are entered into a database that the agency is supposed to use to spot trends or problem areas. But controllers are sometimes too busy to file reports, and the report forms don’t seek information on the controller’s schedule or other details that might be used to determine whether schedules are contributing to errors, Basner said.
When FAA officials were asked about this, they indicated “they didn’t see the necessity to analyze the data that way,” he said.
The committee also thought it was “a bit strange” that FAA officials wouldn’t show them their 2009 study conducted with NASA, Basner added.
“You would think you would get 100% support, but we didn’t get it.”