Space & Vestibular Adaptation

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Space & Vestibular Adaptation

24th September, 2018

We were very fortunate to have a special guest speaker at our latest professional development. Dr Gordon Cable is Clinical Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Adelaide & Chair, Space Life Sciences Committee. As senior medical aviation officer for the Australian Defence Force & specialist in aerospace medicine, Gordon plays an important role in monitoring and improving the health of pilots and astronauts. Gordon presented some of the challenges we face in understanding vestibular adaptation to space travel! Research in this area may seem a little science fiction, however soon space travel will not only impact astronauts, but no doubt more people will travel in and out of space in coming decades. Infact commercial galactic flights have already begun!

Space motion sickness is a huge challenge for astronauts, and researchers are determined to understand why some people can adapt to space more quickly than others. This has enormous implications because of the huge investment and training that goes into putting somebody into space. Once in space, astronauts will need to feel well enough to get their jobs done! We all know how hard it is to concentrate and function when you are feeling dizzy, nauseous and sick. Being sick in a spacesuit is not good news!

However, despite intensive testing, it is currently still difficult to predict how an individual will respond to the the acceleration, freefall and weightless experiences of outer space travel. In the future possible predictions of using spinning spaceships to provide centrifugal force to recreate gravity-like forces will also introduce new challenges.

Gordon explained that current pilots already have challenges, in particular how the body responds to novel gravitational forces and ‘vestibular illusions’ such as the coriolis effect, somatogravic & somatogyric illusions – which can all have catastrophic effects.

Over the years, space travel research has provided a great deal of research into vestibular physiology, with many of the ongoing research questions relevant to current vestibular practice. In vestibular rehabilitation we see many people who have trouble adapting to changes from illness, trauma and even the post-adaptation symptoms from sea travel (have you ever felt like you are still moving for hours or even days after being getting off a boat?). Gordon also showed us some of the early vestibular testing equipment that has been used in outer space!

We look forward to learning more and will welcome Gordon back again, as we will no doubt have many more questions to ask him! At Advanced Neuro Rehab we like to keep up to date with the latest research on dizziness & balance, even if it is out of this world!