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The Effects of Altered Gravity on Physiology

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Front. Physiol. | doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.01850

Vibrotactile Feedback Improves Manual Control of Tilt After Spaceflight

  • 1Center for the National Scientific Research (CNRS), France
  • 2National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), United States
  • 3Azusa Pacific University, United States

The objectives of this study were to quantify decrements in controlling tilt on astronauts immediately after short-duration spaceflight, and to evaluate vibrotactile feedback of tilt as a potential countermeasure. Eleven subjects were rotated on a variable radius centrifuge (216 º/s, < 20 cm radius) in a darkened room to elicit tilt disturbance in roll (≤ ± 15º). Nine of these subjects performed a nulling task in the pitch plane (≤ ± 7.5º). Small tactors placed around the torso vibrated at 250 Hz to provide tactile feedback when the body tilt exceeded predetermined levels. The subjects performed closed-loop nulling tasks during random tilt steps with and without this vibrotactile feedback of tilt. There was a significant effect of spaceflight on the performance of the nulling tasks based on root mean square error. Performance returned to baseline levels 1-2 days after landing. Vibrotactile feedback significantly improved performance of nulling tilt during all test sessions. Nulling performance in roll was significantly correlated with performance in pitch. These results indicate that adaptive changes in astronauts’ vestibular processing during spaceflight impair their ability to manually control tilt following transitions between gravitational environments. A simple vibrotactile prosthesis improves their ability to null-out tilt within a limited range of motion disturbances.

Keywords: vestibular system, manual control, vibrotactile feedback, microgravity, Subjective vertical

Received: 15 Oct 2018; Accepted: 07 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

Jörn Rittweger, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren (HZ), Germany

Reviewed by:

Shu Zhang, Fourth Military Medical University, China
Ke Lv, China Astronaut Research and Training Center, China  

Copyright: © 2018 Clement, Reschke and Wood. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. Gilles Clement, Center for the National Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris, France, gilles.r.clement@nasa.gov