The Wayfinding experiment: Learning how spaceflight impacts astronauts’ brains

published on July 3, 2020

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

Being weightless challenges our internal navigation system

This can be a problem, for example,

if we have to find the nearest escape hatch in an emergency

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

Wayfinding: Let’s follow the science

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