determine the sensorimotor and cognitive consequences of CNS reorganization resulting from exposure to microgravity. These are not currently being done. With regard to teleoperation and telepresence, virtual environments are being developed for use in training and as experimental tools. As these techniques reach the required level of sophistication, their usefulness in controlling equipment and robots remotely will be evaluated. Virtual displays are being developed as part of two projects funded through NASA’s Advanced Human Support Technologies program, one of which is based at ARC. Head-mounted see-through displays as well as three-dimensional spatial displays are being developed with the objective of using these to study human perception and mobility. Ultimately, these displays will be used as tools to train astronauts for extravehicular and intravehicular activity, both preflight and also in flight on the ISS using the Virtual Environment Generator.
The Strategy report recommended that preliminary studies be conducted on the effects of microgravity on human sensory and motor cortical maps using fMRI and that strategies be developed to determine the sensorimotor and cognitive consequences of CNS reorganization resulting from exposure to microgravity. At present, these are not being done. Virtual environments and head-mounted displays are being developed, and these will be used in teleoperation and for training astronauts.
NASA’s research program has made major advances in characterizing changes in posture and balance experienced by astronauts during spaceflight and in understanding the responses of the visual-vestibular system to altered gravitational conditions. However, as recommended in the Strategy report, studies are needed to determine the effects of microgravity on human sensory and motor cortical maps using fMRI, and how microgravity may affect CNS reorganization in general and sensorimotor and cognitive functions in particular. At present, animal studies are supported by NASA to characterize certain basic functions of the peripheral vestibular system in university-based laboratories. Little or no progress has been made on understanding how the central vestibular system is affected by microgravity. Further, there appears to be little, if any, linkage between animal-based and human-based research. In the future, it would be desirable to find a more effective mechanism for integrating information obtained from animal and human studies.
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