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Space Study Sheds Light on Human Perception and Safety in Zero Gravity
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Space Study Sheds Light on Human Perception and Safety in Zero Gravity
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 26, 2024

A study by York University reveals astronauts' remarkable skill in orienting themselves and estimating distances in the absence of gravity.

The research, a collaborative effort with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, suggests significant implications for astronaut safety in space. It could also offer insights into how aging impacts human balance systems on Earth, according to Faculty of Health Professor Laurence Harris, the study's lead.

"Removing gravity from the equation offers a unique perspective on its influence on perceptual skills," says Harris, a vision and motion perception expert and leader of the Multisensory Integration Lab at York. "Our long-term engagement in space, as we prepare for lunar missions and beyond, underscores the necessity of addressing health and safety queries. Our findings indicate humans can effectively compensate for the absence of Earth-like conditions through vision alone."

Harris, alongside York's Lassonde School of Engineering Professors Robert Allison and Michael Jenkin and a team of postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, observed twelve International Space Station astronauts. These astronauts, in a microgravity environment that mimics flight, demonstrated a largely intact sense of distance, contradicting anecdotal feelings of moving faster or further in space.

Although connecting with astronauts post-arrival at the station may have missed immediate adaptations to microgravity, Harris notes, "The quick adjustment, as our findings suggest, is a positive indicator of human adaptability in space."

The study, which is part of a decade-long project published in Nature's npj Microgravity, also examines microgravity's effects on other perceptual skills. This includes body tilt estimation, distance traveled, and object size recognition, indicating a resilience in self-motion perception that challenges the assumption that balance issues in old age are linked to the vestibular system.

"Our research implies that the mechanisms governing movement perception in the elderly remain largely intact, pointing to other factors as the cause of balance-related falls," Harris concludes, emphasizing the potential broader implications of these findings on understanding balance and motion perception.

Research Report:The effects of long-term exposure to microgravity and body orientation relative to gravity on perceived traveled distance.

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