Research: In what way does spatial perception change in space?

OHB supporting the successful Neurospat experiment on board the ISS

ESA astronaut André Kuipers on board the ISS with Neurospat experiment (source: ESA)

In the gravity-free conditions in space, not only blood circulation and other physical functions (muscles) change but also the sense of balance and spatial perception. The ISS “Neurospat” experiment explores spatial perception and senso-motoric adjustments to the gravity-free conditions on board the ISS using visual stimulation in tandem with EEG measurements. The results of these experiments are being used to gain a better understanding of problems in the perception of movement on the surface of the earth.

Yesterday (Thursday), the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield completed his second session of the EPM “Neurospat” experiment on board the European Columbus module of the International Space Station ISS, which had been launched by Space Shuttle “Atlantis” precisely five years earlier (on February 7, 2008). The data collected during the experiment is being transmitted to the ground today. Hadfield is the fifth and final astronaut to have successfully completed two Neurospat sessions. The experiment is performed as soon as possible after the astronaut boards the space station, with the second session held 60 days later. The data is then sent to the ground for scientific evaluation. The researchers are highly satisfied with the data which has been collected to date and would like to add an additional five astronauts to the sample to render the statistical evaluation more robust.

Bremen-based space company OHB System AG assisted with the development, planning and execution of the experiment. Developed and built by OHB, the scientific EPM experiment rack (European Physiology Modules Facility) is being used to execute the Neurospat experiment. The EPM is one of the most frequently used research facilities on board the ISS. Last year alone, eight different experiment cycles were performed in different sessions involving neurophysiology, metabolism, radiation and the cardio-vascular system.

Looking forward, the EPM is to be additionally used for research into physics. Accordingly, a series of experiments exploring the physics of complex plasmas is being planned. The experimental equipment “Plasma-Kristall 4” required for this purpose has been developed by OHB subsidiary Kayser-Threde GmbH in Munich and is currently being tested with EPM ground models before going into operation on board the ISS next year.

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