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Astronauts' brains 'tricked' for training

Aug. 24, 2010 at 5:34 PM   |   Comments

HOUSTON, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they can trick the brains of astronauts to simulate the dizzying effects experienced when returning to Earth after a long period in space.

A research group at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute has developed a Galvanic vestibular stimulation system that safely induces the sensory and mobility disturbances commonly experienced by astronauts returning to Earth's gravity, an institute release said Tuesday.

These disturbances could affect an astronaut's vision and neurological function, impacting the ability to land a spacecraft. Once on the ground, astronauts often have trouble keeping their balance and walking, researchers said.

The system developed by Steven Moore, an associate professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, uses electrodes placed behind the ear to deliver small amounts of electricity to the vestibular nerve, which then sends the signals to the brain, resulting in sensory and motor disturbances.

This makes it an excellent operational training tool, scientists say.

"You can train for spaceflight tasks under normal conditions on Earth, but that will not give you an indication of what an astronaut will feel like," Moore said. "The GVS system will make mission simulations more realistic. This will be quite useful for astronaut training, especially for astronauts that have not flown before."

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