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Why do astronauts suffer from space sickness?
Date:5/21/2008

Centrifuging astronauts for a lengthy period provided researcher Suzanne Nooij with better insight into how space sickness develops, the nausea and disorientation experienced by many astronauts. Nooij defended her PhD theses on this subject at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, The Netherlands) on Tuesday 20 May.

Gravity plays a major role in our spatial orientation. Changes in gravitational forces, such as the transition to weightlessness during a space voyage, influence our spatial orientation and require adaptation by many of the physiological processes in which our balance system plays a part. As long as this adaptation is incomplete, this can be coupled to motion sickness (nausea), visual illusions and disorientation.

This space sickness or Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS), is experienced by about half of all astronauts during the first few days of their space voyage. Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutchman in space in 1986, also suffered from these symptoms. In his capacity as TU Delft professor, Ockels was PhD supervisor for Suzanne Nooijs research.

Rotation

Interestingly, SAS symptoms can even be experienced after lengthy exposure to high gravitational forces in a human centrifuge, as is used for instance for testing and training fighter pilots. To experience this, people have to spend longer than an hour in a centrifuge and be subjected to gravitational forces of three times higher than that on Earth. The rotation is in itself not unpleasant, but after leaving the centrifuge about half of the test subjects experience the same symptoms as caused by space sickness. It also turns out that astronauts who suffer from space sickness during space flights also experience these symptoms following lengthy rotation on Earth. This means that these symptoms are not caused by weightlessness as such, but more generally by adaptation to a different gravitational force.

Suzanne Nooij has studied these effects closely using the hum
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Contact: Roy Meijer
r.e.t.meijer@tudelft.nl
31-152-781-751
Delft University of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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