This paper describes the activities for utilization and control of ELITE S2 on board the International Space Station (ISS). ELITE S2 is a payload of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) for quantitative human movement analysis in weightlessness. Within the frame of a bilateral agreement with NASA, ASI has funded a number of facilities, enabling different scientific experiments on board the ISS. ELITE S2 has been developed by the ASI contractor Kayser Italia, delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in 2006 for pre-flight processing, launched in 2007 by the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-118), integrated in the U.S. lab and used during the Increments 16 and 17 through 2008. The ELITE S2 flight segment comprises equipment mounted into an Express Rack and a number of stowed items to be deployed for experiment performance (video cameras and accessories). The ground segment consists in a User Support Operations Center (based at Kayser Italia) enabling real-time payload control and a number of User Home Bases (located at the ASI and PIs premises), for the scientific assessment of the experiment performance. Two scientific protocols on reaching and cognitive processing have been successfully performed in five sessions involving two ISS crewmembers: IMAGINE 2 and MOVE.
Research Containing: neuro-sensory system
Selective weighting of cutaneous receptor feedback and associated balance impairments following short duration space flight
The present study investigated the perception of low frequency (3 Hz) vibration on the foot sole and its relationship to standing balance following short duration space flight in nine astronauts. Both 3 Hz vibration perception threshold (VPT) and standing balance measures increased on landing day compared to pre-flight. Contrary to our hypothesis, a positive linear relationship between these measures was not observed; however astronauts with the most sensitive skin (lowest 3 Hz VPT) were found to have the largest sway on landing day. While the change in foot sole sensitivity does not appear to directly relate to standing balance control, an exploratory strategy may be employed by astronauts whose threshold to pressure information is lower. Understanding sensory adaptations and balance control has implications to improve balance control strategies following space flight and in sensory impaired populations on earth.
Understanding the effects of spaceflight on head–trunk coordination during walking and obstacle avoidance
Prolonged exposure to spaceflight conditions results in a battery of physiological changes, some of which contribute to sensorimotor and neurovestibular deficits. Upon return to Earth, functional performance changes are tested using the Functional Task Test (FTT), which includes an obstacle course to observe post-flight balance and postural stability, specifically during turning. The goal of this study was to quantify changes in movement strategies during turning events by observing the latency between head-and-trunk coordinated movements. It was hypothesized that subjects experiencing neurovestibular adaptations would exhibit head-to-trunk locking (‘en bloc’ movement) during turning, exhibited by a decrease in latency between head and trunk movement. FTT data samples were collected from 13 ISS astronauts and 26 male 70-day head down tilt bed rest subjects, including bed rest controls (10 BRC) and bed rest exercisers (16 BRE). Samples were analyzed three times pre-exposure, immediately post-exposure (0 or 1-day post) and 2–3 times during recovery from the unloading environment. Two 3D inertial measurements units (XSens MTx) were attached to subjects, one on the head and one on the upper back. This study focused primarily on the yaw movements about the subject’s center of rotation. Time differences (latency) between head and trunk movement were averaged across a slalom obstacle portion, consisting of three turns (approximately three 601 turns). All participants were grouped as ‘decreaser’ or ‘increaser’, relating to their change in head-to-trunk movement latency between pre- and post-environmental adaptation measures. Spaceflight unloading (ISS) showed a bimodal response between the ‘increaser’ and ‘decreaser’ group, while both bed rest control (BRC) and bed rest exercise (BRE) populations showed increased preference towards a ‘decreaser’ categorization, displaying greater head–trunk locking. It is clear that changes in movement strategies are adopted during exposure to an unloading environment. These results further the under- standing of vestibular–somatosensory convergence and support the use of bed rest as an exclusionary model to better understand sensorimotor changes in spaceflight.
Perception of affordances during long-term exposure to weightlessness in the International Space station
On Earth, visual eye height (VEH)–the distance from the observer’s line of gaze to the ground in the visual scene–constitutes an effective cue in perceiving affordance such as the passability through apertures, based on the assumption that one’s feet are on the ground. In the present study, we questioned whether an observer continues to use VEH to estimate the width of apertures during long-term exposure to weightlessness, where contact with the floor is not required. Ten astronauts were tested in preflight, inflight in the International Space Station, and postflight sessions. They were asked to adjust the opening of a virtual doorway displayed on a laptop device until it was perceived to be just wide enough to pass through (i.e., the critical aperture). We manipulated VEH by raising and lowering the level of the floor in the visual scene. We observed an effect of VEH manipulation on the critical aperture. When VEH decreased, the critical aperture decreased too, suggesting that widths relative to the body were perceived to be larger when VEH was smaller. There was no overall significant session effect, but the analysis of between-subjects variability revealed two participant profile groups. The effect of weightlessness was different for these two groups even though the VEH strategy remained operational during spaceflight. This study shows that the VEH strategy appears to be very robust and can be used, if necessary, in inappropriate circumstances such as free-floating, perhaps promoted by the nature of the visual scene.
The aim of the study was to resolve the issue of spaceflight-induced, adaptive modification of the otolith system by measuring unilateral otolith responses in a pre- versus post-flight design. The study represents the first comprehensive approach to examining unilateral otolith function following space flight. Ten astronauts participated in unilateral otolith function tests three times preflight and up to four times after Shuttle flights from landing day through the subsequent 10 days. During unilateral centrifugation, utricular function was examined by the perceptual changes reflected by the subjective visual vertical (SVV) and the otolith-mediated ocular counter-roll, designated as utriculo-ocular response (UOR). Unilateral saccular reflexes were recorded by measurement of collic vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (cVEMP). The findings demonstrate a general increase in interlabyrinth asymmetry of otolith responses on landing day relative to preflight baseline, with subsequent reversal in asymmetry within 2-3 days. Recovery to baseline levels was achieved within 10 days. This fluctuation in asymmetry was consistent for the utricle tests (SVV and UOR) while apparently stronger for SVV. A similar asymmetry was observed during cVEMP testing. In addition, the results provide initial evidence of a dominant labyrinth. The findings require reconsideration of the otolith asymmetry hypothesis; in general, on landing day, the response from one labyrinth was equivalent to preflight values, while the other showed considerable discrepancy. The finding that one otolith response can return to one-g level within hours after re-entry while the other takes considerably longer demonstrates the importance of considering the otolith response as a result of both peripheral and associated central neural processing.