Effect of Gravitational Context on EEG Dynamics: A Study of Spatial Cognition, Novelty Processing and Sensorimotor Integration (Neurospat) - 09.17.14
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The Neurospat experiment is improving our knowledge of how astronaut perception is altered in space, where gravity cannot help with orientation, and what areas of the brain are responsible. This could help in finding / developing countermeasures alleviating any disorientation experienced by astronauts especially during key activities such as spacewalks and docking/undocking of spacecraft.
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Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)
ISS Expedition Duration
March 2009 - September 2013
Previous ISS Missions
Neurospat was first operated on ISS Expedition 19/20.
- Effect of Gravitational Context on EEG Dynamics: A Study of Spatial Cognition, Novelty Processing and Sensorimotor Integration (Neurospat) is composed of two principal experimental tasks: Visual Orientation and Visuomotor Tracking, plus additional, standardized electroencephalogram (EEG) tasks performed as a means of assessing general effects of the space station environment on EEG signals.
Neurospat uses physiological and behavioral measures to assess both the changes in general activation, prefrontal brain function and perceptual reorganization. Indices of electroencephalogram (EEG), event related brain potentials (ERP), reaction time and errors are measured in a spatial orientation task. The stimulus set also contains task irrelevant unique visual stimuli to allow assessment of electrophysiological correlates of novelty processing.
Effect of gravitational context on brain processing: A study of sensorimotor integration using event related EEG dynamics. In this project the purpose is to study brain activity that underlies cognitive processes involved in four different tasks that crewmembers may encounter on a daily basis:
- visuomotor tracking
- perception of self-orientation
- 3D navigation
- discrimination of objects orientation
These tasks are designed to evoke adapted responses of the sensorimotorsystem in the presence or absence of gravity. For each paradigm the involvement of five cognitive processes will be examined: perception, attention, memorization, decision and action. The roles played by gravity on these neural processes will be analyzed by measuring evoked potentials and EEG dynamics methods during virtual reality stimulation.
Previous neuroscience research has highlighted various differences between perception on earth and in space. Without gravity to act as a stimulus, some of the most important neural sensors in the body cannot provide the assistance they would normally provide for orientation purposes. Astronauts therefore rely more heavily on visual perception for orientation. For this reason understanding what altered visual perception occurs in weightlessness, and what areas of the brain are responsible, is an important element in making sure that this does not present any issues for undertaking mission activities, especially key activities such as spacewalks and dockings/undockings. Results generated could form a key part of mission planning and therefore optimise the chances of achieving all mission goals and secure optimal mission success. It could also potentially feed into the design of equipment for use in orbit.
Understanding how the neural processes of perception adapt to weightlessness in turn provides an insight into exactly how perception is altered by the presence of gravity. This research could therefore improve our fundamental knowledge of how the human central nervous system functions on earth. Furthermore drawing similarities between the disorientation experienced by astronauts when first adapting to weightlessness and certain medical conditions on earth where disorientation can be an important symptom, can provide important information of the areas of the brain responsible which could help with the treatment of such conditions. The development of these electrophysiological experimental protocols promises to provide a new tool for clinical testing of spatial cognition, altered in pathological conditions and in normal aging.
Five long-term subjects are required to complete Neurospat. This experiment is to be performed in a relatively calm environment; i.e. without major activities going on in the same module.
Cheron G, Leroy A, de Saedeleer C, Bengoetxea A, Lipshits M, Cebolla AM, Servais L, Dan B, Berthoz A, McIntyre J. Effect of Gravity on Human Spontaneous 10-Hz Electroencephalographic Oscillations During the Arrest Reaction. Brain Research. 2006; 1121(1): 104-116.
Ground Based Results Publications
Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk gives his crew mate Frank De Winne a helping hand with the European Space Agency experiment NeuroSpat.
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NASA Image: ISS030E022613: European Space Agency (ESA) Andre Kuipers,Expedition 30 Flight Engineer (FE),during his first orbital NEUROSPAT session. Andre is wearing an Electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode cap and optimizing channel impedance of the electrodes before starting measurements. NeuroSpat investigates the ways in which crew members' three-dimensional visual and space perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness.
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