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The Wayfinding experiment: Studying how spaceflight affects astronauts' brains

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Uploaded on June 18, 2019

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The Wayfinding experiment: Studying how spaceflight affects astronauts' brains

2019-06-18 - Wayfinding, a Canadian study led by researchers from the University of Calgary, takes a closer look at the changes in astronauts’ brains caused by weightlessness in the space environment.

Astronauts like the CSA’s David Saint-Jacques are helping gather data that could lead to the development of new preparation and recovery strategies for missions to more distant destinations.

(Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)

Transcript

Narrator: You don’t realize it, but on Earth, your body is constantly working to help you get your bearings and keep your balance.

Your brain gathers information from your eyes and other parts of your body, like the inner ear, to create a mental map of your surroundings.

David Saint-Jacques: Being weightless up here challenges that internal navigation system. This can cause problems if, for example, we have to quickly locate the closest escape hatch in an emergency situation.

Narrator: A Canadian Space Agency experiment, led by Dr. Giuseppe Iaria from the University of Calgary, is looking at how microgravity affects our orientation skills.

This study, called Wayfinding, is putting astronauts—like David Saint-Jacques—to the test.

Before they launch, the astronauts perform a series of orientation tasks and performance assessments. They also undergo a number of scans to measure their brain structures and activity.

The astronauts repeat these tests shortly after they return to Earth, and again, about six months later, providing scientists with before-and-after data for comparison.

The goal is to find out how astronauts’ brains adapt to the space environment, and then re-adapt to gravity on Earth.

Results of the Wayfinding study could help develop preparation and recovery strategies astronauts could use for future space missions.

On Earth, it could also help shed light on balance disorders like labyrinthitis or neural degeneration related to aging.

David Saint-Jacques: Wayfinding: Let’s follow the science.

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