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

y activities, the brain interprets information provided by the body's sensory systems: the eyes, the inner ear balance organs, the skin and muscle movement receptors. Bloomberg said the problems for astronauts occur during the transition period in which the brain is trying to adapt to a new gravity environment -- either returning to Earth or in the future adjusting to lunar or martian gravity.

"In space, information from the sensory systems is different, particularly when you take away gravity. The brain reinterprets that information, makes adjustments and allows you to do the activities you need to do in space," Bloomberg said. "The down side to that is when you return to Earth, the sensory systems are not used to a normal gravity environment."

Former NASA astronaut Dr. Leroy Chiao experienced balance disturbances following his four spaceflights, one of which was a six-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS). He compared the effects to those experienced after stepping off a fast-spinning playground merry-go-round. "After a merry-go-round ride, the effects go away pretty quickly," Chiao said. "But after a spaceflight, they linger."

Post-flight data collected indicates a correlation between the length of the mission and how long effects linger. Bloomberg said if an astronaut has been in space on a typical two-week shuttle mission, it may take several days to recover. For six-month stays aboard the ISS, it could take at least several weeks to return to normal.

In addition to maximizing training efficiency, Bloomberg is looking at how long the benefit of the adaptability training lasts. Once subjects master the treadmill, they come back periodically for testing to see how well they perform. He is investigating if subjects can retain the training for up to six months, which would allow the training to take place before a long space mission.

Another goal of the researchers is to integrate a version of th
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SOURCE National Space Biomedical Research Institute
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