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Astronaut Balancing Act: Training to Help Explorers Adapt to a Return to Gravity
Date:12/9/2009

Release and photos available at http://www.nsbri.org/NewsPublicOut/Release.epl?r=130

HOUSTON, Dec. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Astronauts returning from challenging long-duration missions face one more challenge when they get back to Earth -- standing up and walking.

Upon returning to normal gravity, astronauts often suffer from balance problems that lead to dizziness and difficulty standing, walking and turning corners. Dr. Jacob Bloomberg is leading a group of National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) scientists in a project to develop techniques to help astronauts adapt quickly to a new gravity environment and to overcome balance disturbances. This concept will also have benefits for non-astronaut populations such as the elderly or people with balance disorders.

Bloomberg of NASA Johnson Space Center Neurosciences Laboratory and his colleagues use a system that consists of a treadmill mounted on a base that can be actively moved in different directions to simulate balance disturbances. Called an Adaptability Training System, the treadmill has a projection screen in front of it that shows an image of a room or hallway that moves as the user walks. Disturbances are simulated by tilting the treadmill in one direction as the image is tilted in another.

"At first, people find it difficult to walk on the treadmill since its movement and images are out of sync. But over time, they learn to walk on it efficiently. We call this concept 'learning to learn,'" said Bloomberg, who is the associate team leader of NSBRI's Sensorimotor Adaptation Team and a senior research scientist at NASA.

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SOURCE National Space Biomedical Research Institute
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