Interview on the Research Project TELEOP, with Tom Lawson, Australian Student of the Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering

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The first year Master student, Tom Lawson, majoring Space System, share both experience of his lockdown at ISAE-SUPAERO campus, and in Australia with his family, with real motivation in pursuing his project TELEOP. A research based on the piloting of a robot on the lunar surface by an operator in a lockdown situation.

Why did you choose to come to ISAE-SUPAERO, in Toulouse, France?

The first reason is that Toulouse is home to a huge concentration of aerospace companies, and as someone who wants to go directly to industry after my Masters, I found it very appealing from an experience, networking and future job prospect point of view. A second reason is that I have French heritage and I was interested in living in France for the life experience. I became aware of the quality of ISAE-SUPAERO through a professor of mine in Sydney who encouraged me to apply.

Which major did you choose? And what were the reasons?

I chose to major in Space Systems.


I am a self-confessed aeronautical nut, however there are not many aeronautical activities in Australia and I would like to return there eventually. The Australian space industry is growing rapidly and the country is really crying out for professionals who have experience working on space projects. I think that is a niche that I could definitely fill when I head back to Australia in a few years time.

What is your research project?

My research project is called TELEOP. Each year, the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA participate in a joint-analog mission where they put astronauts in confinement for a year and make them perform various experiments to see how their performance evolves throughout the mission. ISAE-SUPAERO runs one of the experiments in this campaign which involves the simulated operation of a robot on the lunar surface. My research project focuses on preparing the mission that was due to commence later this year. The main reason I chose this project was because I wanted to take of advantage of being at ISAE-SUPAERO as it was something that I would not have had the chance to work on in Australia; there is very little human spaceflight research happening back home.

Are you able to work on your project TELEOP while being confined?

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 situation the Russia-based research that I was meant to be working on has been postponed indefinitely. However, when I heard the news about the mandatory confinement in France due to COVID-19, I thought that this could be a great opportunity to study the effects of confinement on ordinary people.

My research supervisors thought it would be a great idea, so I set up a study that participants can complete online from their own computers to allow us to collect data about their psychological state. Our participants are either people like me who are confined on campus in our small student rooms, or people located throughout France that are in confinement in their own homes.

I am running the TELEOP experience for my research project; so far it is going well and has attracted quite a bit of attention. The feedback from the participants is that it gives them something to do while in confinement and overall they find it worthwhile participating. For the team, it will be interesting to compare the results of the random subjects in our study, with the results from the cosmonauts in the analog mission.

What is the system and the objectives?


The system consists of regular psychological questionnaires that are released every 5 days on a centralised website that I have set up. Its objectives are to gauge the effect of isolation on psychological parameters such as stress, anxiety and emotional state. It also includes computer based reaction ‘games’ that are intended to measure reaction time, visual search ability and active memory. We expect to measure a decrease in these parameters as well as an increase in our measures of stress and anxiety.

How do you carry out this project?

The project is entirely carried out online. Due to social distancing restrictions, we had to make sure that everyone could complete the survey with their own computer, in their own home.

How do you find living in confinement in general?

I spent the first month-and-a-half of confinement living on-campus at ISAE-SUPAERO. Living in a tiny student room with limited space has a very negative effect on productivity, and myself and others found that our motivation to work dropped significantly. Before confinement, many of us would get together in groups to study or work on projects; so not being able to work in teams has definitely affected my performance. I was able to fly back to Australia in mid-April when it became clear that the university would be closed permanently.

What are you currently doing in Australia?

I am currently continuing to run the COVID19 Confinement study for my Masters degree research project, while also following all my usual classes as I would in France, via the internet. For the most part it is quite good, but with time zones, occasionally I have classes at 1 or 2 in the morning, which can be a bit much! Are you pursuing your research project from Australia? Yes, we are currently in the deconfinement phase of the COVID19 research project, where we send out follow-up tasks for participants to complete.

Have you further analyzed the results of the Teleop containment experiment you conducted at the residences?

Due to the nature of psychological studies, they are susceptible to bias and as such we will not begin to analyse the data until the entire dataset has been collected, including all of the post-studies. This will take approximately 6 months following the end of confinement.

When do you plan to come back to France, and what do you want to do there?

I will come back to France in September to pursue the second year of my Masters degree. As part of the degree I will be looking for internships and I am keen to take advantage of being in an aerospace hub such as Toulouse to get some valuable experience in a space company or agency.

And a big shoutout to all my friends that are still on campus back at ISAE-SUPAERO!

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