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  1. submitted - in Review for IEEE ICASSP-2024) (Ed.)
    The Fearless Steps Apollo (FS-APOLLO) resource is a collection of over 150,000 hours of audio, associated meta-data, and supplemental technological toolkit intended to benefit the (i) speech processing technology, (ii) communication science, team-based psychology, and history, and (iii) education/STEM, preservation/archival communities. The FSAPOLLO initiative which started in 2014 has since resulted in the preservation of over 75,000 hours of NASA Apollo Missions audio. Systems created for this audio collection have led to the emergence of several new Speech and Language Technologies (SLT). This paper seeks to provide an overview of the latest advancements in the FS-Apollo effort and explore upcoming strategies in big-data deployment, outreach, and novel avenues of K-12 and STEM education facilitated through this resource. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 16, 2025
  2. Speaker tracking in spontaneous naturalistic data continues to be a major research challenge, especially for short turn-taking communications. The NASA Apollo-11 space mission brought astronauts to the moon and back, where team based voice communications were captured. Building robust speaker classification models for this corpus has significant challenges due to variability of speaker turns, imbalanced speaker classes, and time-varying background noise/distortions. This study proposes a novel approach for speaker classification and tracking, utilizing a graph attention network framework that builds upon pretrained speaker embeddings. The model’s robustness is evaluated on a number of speakers (10-140), achieving classification accuracy of 90.78% for 10 speakers, and 79.86% for 140 speakers. Furthermore, a secondary investigation focused on tracking speakers-of-interest(SoI) during mission critical phases, essentially serves as a lasting tribute to the 'Heroes Behind the Heroes'. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 20, 2024
  3. In the context of keyword spotting (KWS), the replacement of handcrafted speech features by learnable features has not yielded superior KWS performance. In this study, we demonstrate that filterbank learning outperforms handcrafted speech features for KWS whenever the number of filterbank channels is severely decreased. Reducing the number of channels might yield certain KWS performance drop, but also a substantial energy consumption reduction, which is key when deploying common always-on KWS on low-resource devices. Experimental results on a noisy version of the Google Speech Commands Dataset show that filterbank learning adapts to noise characteristics to provide a higher degree of robustness to noise, especially when dropout is integrated. Thus, switching from typically used 40-channel log-Mel features to 8-channel learned features leads to a relative KWS accuracy loss of only 3.5% while simultaneously achieving a 6.3× energy consumption reduction. 
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  4. The goal of speech separation is to extract multiple speech sources from a single microphone recording. Recently, with the advancement of deep learning and availability of large datasets, speech separation has been formulated as a supervised learning problem. These approaches aim to learn discriminative patterns of speech, speakers, and background noise using a supervised learning algorithm, typically a deep neural network. A long-lasting problem in supervised speech separation is finding the correct label for each separated speech signal, referred to as label permutation ambiguity. Permutation ambiguity refers to the problem of determining the output-label assignment between the separated sources and the available single-speaker speech labels. Finding the best output-label assignment is required for calculation of separation error, which is later used for updating parameters of the model. Recently, Permutation Invariant Training (PIT) has been shown to be a promising solution in handling the label ambiguity problem. However, the overconfident choice of the output-label assignment by PIT results in a sub-optimal trained model. In this work, we propose a probabilistic optimization framework to address the inefficiency of PIT in finding the best output-label assignment. Our proposed method entitled trainable Softminimum PIT is then employed on the same Long-Short Term Memory (LSTM) architecture used in Permutation Invariant Training (PIT) speech separation method. The results of our experiments show that the proposed method outperforms conventional PIT speech separation significantly (p-value < 0.01) by +1dB in Signal to Distortion Ratio (SDR) and +1.5dB in Signal to Interference Ratio (SIR). 
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  5. Fearless Steps (FS) APOLLO is a + 50,000 hr audio resource established by CRSS-UTDallas capturing all communications between NASA-MCC personnel, backroom staff, and Astronauts across manned Apollo Missions. Such a massive audio resource without metadata/unlabeled corpus provides limited benefit for communities outside Speech-and-Language Technology (SLT). Supplementing this audio with rich metadata developed using robust automated mechanisms to transcribe and highlight naturalistic communications can facilitate open research opportunities for SLT, speech sciences, education, and historical archival communities. In this study, we focus on customizing keyword spotting (KWS) and topic detection systems as an initial step towards conversational understanding. Extensive research in automatic speech recognition (ASR), speech activity, and speaker diarization using manually transcribed 125 h FS Challenge corpus has demonstrated the need for robust domain-specific model development. A major challenge in training KWS systems and topic detection models is the availability of word-level annotations. Forced alignment schemes evaluated using state-of-the-art ASR show significant degradation in segmentation performance. This study explores challenges in extracting accurate keyword segments using existing sentence-level transcriptions and proposes domain-specific KWS-based solutions to detect conversational topics in audio streams. 
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  6. Apollo 11 was the first manned space mission to successfully bring astronauts to the Moon and return them safely. As part of NASA’s goal in assessing team and mission success, all voice communications within mission control, astronauts, and support staff were captured using a multichannel analog system, which until recently had never been made available. More than 400 personnel served as mission specialists/support who communicated across 30 audio loops, resulting in 9,000+ h of data. It is essential to identify each speaker’s role during Apollo and analyze group communication to achieve a common goal. Manual annotation is costly, so this makes it necessary to determine robust speaker identification and tracking methods. In this study, a subset of 100hr derived from the collective 9,000hr of the Fearless Steps (FSteps) Apollo 11 audio data were investigated, corresponding to three critical mission phases: liftoff, lunar landing, and lunar walk. A speaker recognition assessment is performed on 140 speakers from a collective set of 183 NASA mission specialists who participated, based on sufficient training data obtained from 5 (out of 30) mission channels. We observe that SincNet performs the best in terms of accuracy and F score achieving 78.6% accuracy. Speaker models trained on specific phases are also compared with each other to determine if stress, g-force/atmospheric pressure, acoustic environments, etc., impact the robustness of the models. Higher performance was obtained using i-vector and x-vector systems for phases with limited data, such as liftoff and lunar walk. When provided with a sufficient amount of data (lunar landing phase), SincNet was shown to perform the best. This represents one of the first investigations on speaker recognition for massively large team-based communications involving naturalistic communication data. In addition, we use the concept of “Where’s Waldo?” to identify key speakers of interest (SOIs) and track them over the complete FSteps audio corpus. This additional task provides an opportunity for the research community to transition the FSteps collection as an educational resource while also serving as a tribute to the “heroes behind the heroes of Apollo.” 
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  7. INTRODUCTION: CRSS-UTDallas initiated and oversaw the efforts to recover APOLLO mission communications by re-engineering the NASA SoundScriber playback system, and digitizing 30-channel analog audio tapes – with the entire Apollo-11, Apollo-13, and Gemini-8 missions during 2011-17 [1,6]. This vast data resource was made publicly available along with supplemental speech & language technologies meta-data based on CRSS pipeline diarization transcripts and conversational speaker time-stamps for Apollo team at NASA Mission Control Center, [2,4]. In 2021, renewed efforts over the past year have resulted in the digitization of an additional +50,000hrs of audio from Apollo 7,8,9,10,12 missions, and remaining A-13 tapes. Cumulative digitization efforts have enabled the development of the largest publicly available speech data resource with unprompted, real conversations recorded in naturalistic environments. Deployment of this massive corpus has inspired multiple collaborative initiatives such as Web resources ExploreApollo (https://app.exploreapollo.org) LanguageARC (https://languagearc.com/projects/21) [3]. ExploreApollo.org serves as the visualization and play-back tool, and LanguageARC the crowd source subject content tagging resource developed by UG/Grad. Students, intended as an educational resource for k-12 students, and STEM/Apollo enthusiasts. Significant algorithmic advancements have included advanced deep learning models that are now able to improve automatic transcript generation quality, and even extract high level knowledge such as ID labels of topics being spoken across different mission stages. Efficient transcript generation and topic extraction tools for this naturalistic audio have wide applications including content archival and retrieval, speaker indexing, education, group dynamics and team cohesion analysis. Some of these applications have been deployed in our online portals to provide a more immersive experience for students and researchers. Continued worldwide outreach in the form of the Fearless Steps Challenges has proven successful with the most recent Phase-4 of the Challenge series. This challenge has motivated research in low level tasks such as speaker diarization and high level tasks like topic identification. IMPACT: Distribution and visualization of the Apollo audio corpus through the above mentioned online portals and Fearless Steps Challenges have produced significant impact as a STEM education resource for K-12 students as well as a SLT development resource with real-world applications for research organizations globally. The speech technologies developed by CRSS-UTDallas using the Fearless Steps Apollo corpus have improved previous benchmarks on multiple tasks [1, 5]. The continued initiative will extend the current digitization efforts to include over 150,000 hours of audio recorded during all Apollo missions. ILLUSTRATION: We will demonstrate WebExploreApollo and LanguageARC online portals with newly digitized audio playback in addition to improved SLT baseline systems, the results from ASR and Topic Identification systems which will include research performed on the corpus conversational. Performance analysis visualizations will also be illustrated. We will also display results from the past challenges and their state-of-the-art system improvements. 
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  8. INTRODUCTION: Apollo-11 (A-11) was the first manned space mission to successfully bring astronauts to the moon and return them safely. Effective team based communications is required for mission specialists to work collaboratively to learn, engage, and solve complex problems. As part of NASA’s goal in assessing team and mission success, all vital speech communications between these personnel were recorded using the multi-track SoundScriber system onto analog tapes, preserving their contribution in the success of one of the greatest achievements in human history. More than +400 personnel served as mission specialists/support who communicated across 30 audio loops, resulting in +9k hours of data for A-11. To ensure success of this mission, it was necessary for teams to communicate, learn, and address problems in a timely manner. Previous research has found that compatibility of individual personalities within teams is important for effective team collaboration of those individuals. Hence, it is essential to identify each speaker’s role during an Apollo mission and analyze group communications for knowledge exchange and problem solving to achieve a common goal. Assessing and analyzing speaker roles during the mission can allow for exploring engagement analysis for multi-party speaker situations. METHOD: The UTDallas Fearless steps Apollo data is comprised of 19,000 hours (A-11,A-13,A-1) possessing unique and multiple challenges as it is characterized by severe noise and degradation as well as overlap instances over the 30 channels. For our study, we have selected a subset of 100 hours manually transcribed by professional annotators for speaker labels. The 100 hours are obtained from three mission critical events: 1. Lift-Off (25 hours) 2. Lunar-Landing (50 hours) 3. Lunar-Walking (25 hours). Five channels of interest, out of 30 channels were selected with the most speech activity, the primary speakers operating these five channels are command/owners of these channels. For our analysis, we select five speaker roles: Flight Director (FD), Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM), Guidance, Navigation and, Control (GNC), Electrical, environmental, and consumables manager (EECOM), and Network (NTWK). To track and tag individual speakers across our Fearless Steps audio dataset, we use the concept of ‘where’s Waldo’ to identify all instances of our speakers-of-interest across a cluster of other speakers. Also, to understand speaker roles of our speaker-of-interests, we use speaker duration of primary speaker vs secondary speaker and speaker turns as our metrics to determine the role of the speaker and to understand their responsibility during the three critical phases of the mission. This enables a content linking capability as well as provide a pathway to analyzing group engagement, group dynamics of people working together in an enclosed space, psychological effects, and cognitive analysis in such individuals. IMPACT: NASA’s Apollo Program stands as one of the most significant contributions to humankind. This collection opens new research options for recognizing team communication, group dynamics, and human engagement/psychology for future deep space missions. Analyzing team communications to achieve such goals would allow for the formulation of educational and training technologies for assessment of STEM knowledge, task learning, and educational feedback. Also, identifying these personnel can help pay tribute and yield personal recognition to the hundreds of notable engineers and scientist who made this feat possible. ILLUSTRATION: In this work, we propose to illustrate how a pre-trained speech/language network can be used to obtain powerful speaker embeddings needed for speaker diarization. This framework is used to build these learned embeddings to label unique speakers over sustained audio streams. To train and test our system, we will make use of Fearless Steps Apollo corpus, allowing us to effectively leverage a limited label information resource (100 hours of labeled data out of +9000 hours). Furthermore, we use the concept of 'Finding Waldo' to identify key speakers of interest (SOI) throughout the Apollo-11 mission audio across multiple channel audio streams. 
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  9. Speech activity detection (SAD) serves as a crucial front-end system to several downstream Speech and Language Technology (SLT) tasks such as speaker diarization, speaker identification, and speech recognition. Recent years have seen deep learning (DL)-based SAD systems designed to improve robustness against static background noise and interfering speakers. However, SAD performance can be severely limited for conversations recorded in naturalistic environments due to dynamic acoustic scenarios and previously unseen non-speech artifacts. In this letter, we propose an end-to-end deep learning framework designed to be robust to time-varying noise profiles observed in naturalistic audio. We develop a novel SAD solution for the UTDallas Fearless Steps Apollo corpus based on NASA’s Apollo missions. The proposed system leverages spectro-temporal correlations with a threshold optimization mechanism to adjust to acoustic variabilities across multiple channels and missions. This system is trained and evaluated on the Fearless Steps Challenge (FSC) corpus (a subset of the Apollo corpus). Experimental results indicate a high degree of adaptability to out-of-domain data, achieving a relative Detection Cost Function (DCF) performance improvement of over 50% compared to the previous FSC baselines and state-of-the-art (SOTA) SAD systems. The proposed model also outperforms the most recent DL-based SOTA systems from FSC Phase-4. Ablation analysis is conducted to confirm the efficacy of the proposed spectro-temporal features. 
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  10. Naturalistic team based speech communications requires specific protocols/procedures to be followed to allow for effective task completion for distributed team members. NASA Apollo-11 was the first manned space mission to successfully bring astronauts to the moon and return them safely. Mission specialists roles within NASA Mission Control (MOCR) are complex and reflected in their communications. In this study, we perform speaker clustering to identify speech segments uttered by the same speaker from recently recovered Fearless Steps APOLLO corpus (CRSS-UTDallas). We propose a pretrained network to obtain speaker embeddings and use a framework that builds on these learned embeddings which achieves a clustering accuracy of 73.4%. We also track/tag key speakers-of-interest across three critical mission phases and analyze speaker roles based on speech duration. NASA communication protocols dictate that information be communicated in a concise manner. In automated communication analysis, individuals higher in trait dominance generally speak more and gain more control over group processes. Hence, speaker duration of primary- versus -secondary speaker and speaker turns are metrics used to determine speaker role. This analysis provides greater understanding of communications protocol and serves as a lasting tribute to the «Heroes Behind the Heroes of Apollo» as well as preserve “words spoken in space.” 
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