Mental Representation of Spatial Cues During Space Flight (3D-Space) - 06.20.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Mental Representation of Spatial Cues During Space Flight (3D-Space) experiment investigates the effects of exposure to microgravity on the mental representation of spatial cues by astronauts during and after space flight. The absence of the gravitational frame of reference during space flight could be responsible for disturbances in the mental representation of spatial cues, such as the perception of horizontal and vertical lines, the perception of an object's depth, and the perception of a target's distance.
Science Results for Everyone
Objects in space may be closer than they appear. Researchers discover that astronauts see things a little differently in microgravity. When someone in space draws what appears to him or her to be a normal cube, it will be shorter and deeper than in normal gravity, indicating that  perception of 3 dimensional objects changes slightly because of microgravity. When we underestimate the distance of an object, we believe it its size to be smaller than it actually is, and this investigation shows that subjects consistently underestimate distances in space. Subjects also draw more slowly and write smaller in microgravity than they do on Earth, and differences in up and down vertical motion are harder for them to discern.

The following content was provided by Gilles Clément, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details

OpNom: 3D Space

Principal Investigator(s)
Gilles Clément, Ph.D., Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, Lyon, France

Corinna E. Lathan, Ph.D., AnthroTronix, Silver Springs, MD, United States

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Toulouse, France
AnthroTronix Incorporated, Silver Springs, MD, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
European Space Agency

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2008 - September 2011

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
3D-Space is an ongoing investigation which began on ISS Expedition 17.

^ back to top

Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Handwriting and drawing tasks in the Mental Representation of Spatial Cues During Space Flight (3D-Space) investigation will be used to compare the mental representation of the horizontal versus vertical components of layouts of letters and two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects.

  • 3D-Space will investigate if depth perception is altered during space flight by analyzing the strength of geometric optical illusions based on perspective. Subjects will also be asked to indicate which of normal, elongated, or shrunk three-dimesional objects look normal while in microgravity and after return to Earth.

  • 3D-SPACE will investigate distance perception in microgravity by comparing the judgments of relative distance between three-dimesional objects and landmarks on three-dimesional natural scenes, as well as absolute distance between self and one landmark

This experiment involves comparisons of preflight, inflight, and postflight perceptions and mental imagery, with special reference to spaceflight-related decreases in the vertical component of percepts. There are two methodological foci: The first uses multiple measures, stimulus production and stimulus evaluation, to disentangle perceptual and motor contributions. The second is use of a digitizing tablet for subject written input. Virtual reality is used for information display and presentation of perceptual stimulus.

^ back to top


Space Applications
Information Pending

Earth Applications
Information Pending

^ back to top


Operational Requirements and Protocols

Preflight baseline data collection (BDC) will occur at approximately launch minus (L-) 90, L-60, and L-30 days. One BDC session will include performance of three perceptual/motor tasks lasting about 10 minutes each. One task includes writing words horizontally and vertically and drawing geometrical objects using a digitizing tablet. A second task involves adjusting the shape of a geometrical illusion or a three-dimensional object presented in a head-mounted virtual reality display. The third task includes estimating the relative or absolute distances between objects and landmarks in three-dimensional images presented in the head-mounted display. Postflight sessions are identical to those conducted preflight and will be performed on return plus (R+) 0, R+1 or 2, R+4, and R+8 days.

Inflight sessions include the same tasks as the preflight and postflight BDC sessions along with set-up and stowage of associated equipment. Four sessions are planned, with the first session on flight day 10, the second and third session at mid-flight, and a final session within 1-2 weeks before landing. During the tasks subjects will be free-floating to minimize orientation and cognitive reference cues.

This experiment uses the EPM laptop computer on board Columbus. A digitizing tablet, head-mounted display, and a finger trackball will interface with the laptop (using associated cables) for performance of the required tasks.

A total of ten subjects are required to complete this investigation.

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results Publications

    Clement G, Skinner A, Lathan CE.  Distance and size perception in astronauts during long-duration spaceflight. Life. 2013 December 13; 3(4): 524-537. DOI: 10.3390/life3040524.

    Clement G, Skinner A, Richard G, Lathan CE.  Geometric illusions in astronauts during long-duration spaceflight. NeuroReport. 2012; 23(15): 894-899. DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e3283594705. PMID: 22955144.

^ back to top

Ground Based Results Publications

    Gaveau J, Paizis C, Berret B, Pozzo T, Papaxanthis C.  Sensorimotor adaptation of point-to-point arm movements after spaceflight: the role of internal representation of gravity force in trajectory planning. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2011 August; 106(2): 620-629. DOI: 10.1152/jn.00081.2011. PMID: 21562193.

^ back to top

ISS Patents

^ back to top

Related Publications

    Clement G, Lathan CE, Lockerd A, Bukley A.  Mental representation of spatial cues in microgravity: Writing and drawing tests. Acta Astronautica. 2009 April; 64(7-8): 678-681. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2009.01.001.

^ back to top

Related Websites
The information on this page is provided courtesy of the ESA Erasmus Experiment Archive.

^ back to top


image Artist view of a crewmember performing the 3D-Space experiment. Image courtesy of CNRS.
+ View Larger Image

image NASA Image: ISS017E011926 - Greg Chamitoff, Flight Engineer works with 3D-Space experiment in the Japanese Experiment Module, Kibo, during Expedition 17.
+ View Larger Image

image NASA Image: ISS019E012429 - Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 19 flight engineer, prepares to perform the Mental Representation of Spatial Cues During Space Flight (3D-Space) experiment Columbus module.
+ View Larger Image

image NASA Image: ISS020E012614 - ESA Multipurpose Laptop with a prepared HDD (Hard Disk Drive),data storage on a PCMCIA memory card,and an electronic pen table connected to it to be used by the Expedition 20 crew during the French/CNES neuroscientific research experiment 3D Space (SAP) as Subject #5. Experiment was conducted in the Columbus module.
+ View Larger Image

image NASA Image: ISS026E027001- European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, conducts a test run with the French/CNES neuroscientific research experiment “3D-Space” (SAP) in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. While floating freely, Nespoli used the ESA multipurpose laptop with a prepared hard disk drive, data storage on a memory card, and an electronic pen table connected to it. 3D-Space, which involves distance, writing and illusion exercises, is designed to test the hypothesis that altered visual perception affects motor control.
+ View Larger Image