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Test Your Space Legs

Dr Douglas Watt of the Aerospace Medical Research Unit at McGill University in Montreal has designed a variety of apparatus to test human responses to various stimuli while in motion - in other words, motion sickness. The sled (920029*) built by his team and operated on the 1992 space shuttle mission STS-42 by Dr Roberta Bondar was designed to test a person's susceptibility to motion sickness in space, and the recovery time. While positioned in the seat, a polka-dot covered umbrella is brought up to the face so that only a small amount of the surroundings are visible with peripheral vision. The umbrella is then rotated and the sled moved forward and backward. After a few seconds, objects seen via peripheral vision begin to rotate in a direction opposite to the rotating umbrella with its dots.


How people react to motion and visual stimuli is tested in space by Roberta Bondar using this sled developed in Canada. (NASA)

These complex motions induce motion sickness in some, and impair the visual/motor response of most test subjects. After the "ride," subjects attempt to perform simple tasks, which are repeated to determine how long the effects persist. On Earth, the results help physiologists like Drs Watt and Bondar understand why some people are more easily affected by motion sickness than others. It is now better understood how astronaut performance is affected by the microgravity environment inside a spacecraft and how quickly an astronaut adapts to that environment after launch.

* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by the Museum.