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Pre-flight Training of Autonomic Responses for Mitigating the Effects of Spatial Disorientation During Spaceflight

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Space motion sickness is characterized by symptoms of spatial disorientation, nausea, and vomiting. It affects approximately 70% of the crew during space travel and symptoms are commonly treated with intramuscular injections of promethazine. However, this countermeasure has had limited effectiveness and produces unwanted side-effects that include drowsiness and impaired performance. This study addresses PRD Risks: Risk of Therapeutic Failure due to Ineffectiveness of Medication; Risk of Impaired Control of Spacecraft, Associated Systems and Immediate Vehicle Egress due to Vestibular/Sensorimotor Alterations Associated with Spaceflight. Integrated Research Plan (IRP) Gap SM11: Can crewmember spatiomotor abilities be more accurately predicted and countermeasures and training techniques developed to mitigate spatial disorientation during spaceflight? The purpose of the proposed research is to evaluate an alternative countermeasure for mitigating symptoms without the side effects commonly observed with anti-motion sickness medications. Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE) is a 6-hour physiological training program that has proven to be a highly efficient and effective method for enabling people to monitor and voluntarily control up to 20 of their own physiological responses, thereby suppressing motion sickness symptoms. In an earlier flight study, three astronauts were given AFTE during preflight training and three other astronauts participated as controls and were given a pharmacologic treatment. Shuttle crews were required to record data during launch, waking hours on mission days 1 to 3, and during reentry. They were required to practice AFTE for 15-minute inflight and apply control if symptoms occurred. Our findings indicate that 2 of the 3 astronauts receiving AFTE were successful at controlling symptoms in flight, while 2 of 3 controls were severely debilitated despite given anti-motion sickness medications.

Specific Objectives: 1) To determine individual baselines of physiological responses and tolerances to spatial disorientation in a rotating chair test simulating the cross-coupled angular acceleration effects anticipated for Orion space craft re-entry; and 2) To evaluate AFTE effects for mitigating symptoms and improving tolerances to spatial disorientation.

Methods: Establish capability for providing remote AFTE training to any location. The study will include two groups of men and women, 10 subjects per group: Treatment - AFTE and Control no treatment. Each group will receive 4 exposures to rotating chair tests at one week intervals. All subjects will receive training on a manual dexterity and short-term memory task between tests 1 and 2. Subjects in the treatment group will receive a total of 6-hours AFTE training (two hours before the second, third, and fourth tests).

Deliverable: NASA Technical Memorandum and peer-reviewed journal article(s). We anticipate results of this study will demonstrate that AFTE provides crews with significantly better protection from the effects of spatial disorientation than adaptation training alone and without the side-effects of medication, thereby improving health,safety, and operational efficiency.

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