Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC) - 09.05.18

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC) will test the theory of brain adaptation during spaceflight by testing hand-eye coordination before, during and after the mission. This experiment is a collaborative effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency.
Science Results for Everyone
Your Angry Birds score would go down in space. Space station crew members tracked targets on a computer screen with a joystick and pushed buttons as prompted, both separately and at the same time. They made tracking mistakes twice as often during flight as before flight and took more than twice as long to react to a dual task and even longer on simple reaction tasks. This slower performance continues until the end the long-duration mission and could be related to stress and its effect on adaptation to space. Performance recovered within days of return to Earth, suggesting that the effects of stress and adaptation are reversible.

The following content was provided by Otmar Bock, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Otmar Bock, Ph.D., German Sport University, Köln, Germany

Jacob J. Bloomberg, Ph.D., NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
Barry Fowler, Ph.D., York University, North York, Ontario, Canada
Cornelia Weigelt, Ph.D., German Sport University, Köln, Germany

Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sponsoring Space Agency
Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2006 - October 2007

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
ISS Expedition 14 is the first mission for TRAC.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • TRAC will test the idea that the decrease in motor skills, that has been reported by some astronauts (for example, hand-eye coordination) is due to the brain adapting to being in space.

  • By testing hand/eye coordination of the ISS crew, scientists hope to test the theory that while the brain is adapting to space, that it is unable to provide the resources necessary to perform normal motor skills.

The Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC) experiment will evaluate the theory that the decline of manual skills during spaceflight is a result of sensory-motor adaptation. The data that are collected will be used to provide evidence that the brain undergoes adaptive reorganization in microgravity which consumes resources that will be used for computational tasks leaving few resources for activities involving motor skills.

To test the theory of adaptation, the crewmember will test their hand-eye coordination prior to the mission, while in orbit and then again when the mission has concluded and they have returned to Earth. The Earth tests will provide the baseline for the on-orbit tests. The tests will be conducted in seven sessions occurring in one week intervals toward the end of the Increment.

The hardware that will be used includes a laptop computer that is mounted to a table and a joystick to control the cursor on the computer screen. Additionally, they will use audio headphones and a reaction time box to respond to audio and visual stimuli. The crewmember will be seated and secured to the floor of the US Lab module. The table will sit on the crewmember's legs when the test is performed.

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Space Applications
Understanding how the brain adapts from zero-g to 1-g will lead to improvement in procedures that require precise motor skills.

Earth Applications
The finds of this investigation may lead to improved medical treatments for patient who suffer from coordination deficits and neurological disorders on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
Measurement will take place in the US Lab section of the ISS. The crew will be seated on the floor, restrained using a PERS strap around the waist. For the measurements, the crew will need a laptop, joystick, reaction time box, and headphones.

There will be seven sessions involving three ISS crewmembers. The sessions will occur in one week intervals towards the end of the Expedition. The crewmembers should not participate in physical exercise within 20 minutes of the start of each session.
ISS crewmembers will test their hand-eye coordination by using a computer program. The crewmembers will be secured to the floor of the US Lab module when the table with the TRAC hardware will be placed over their legs. For the test, the crewmember will use a joystick, attached to a laptop, to control a cursor that is displayed on the laptop screen. There will also be a reaction time box that will be used to measure the response to audio and visual cues.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Three (3) ISS crewmembers were repeatedly tested before, during, and after an extended mission on the International Space Station (ISS) during increments 14 and 15. The subjects performed an unstable tracking task at targets on a computer screen with a joystick and four reaction-time tasks with a 5-button box, both separately and concurrently.

The study found that the tracking error of the subjects on an unstable compensatory tracking task increased substantially, by a factor of about 2, from preflight to in flight both under single- and dual-task conditions. The dual-task costs with a reaction-time task requiring rhythm production was 2.4 times higher than with a reaction-time task requiring visual-spatial coordination, and 8 times higher than with a regular choice reaction-time task. In contrast to other studies, late data collection revealed that performance deficit persisted until the end the long-duration (5 to 6-month) mission. The authors proposed that this prolongation could be related to the unique stress levels ISS crewmembers experienced, and thus their ability to adapt to the space environment. It is quite conceivable that after prolonged microgravity, the human sensorimotor system reaches a new equilibrium which restores performance on everyday tasks, but not necessarily on experimental trials. This finding was interpreted as evidence that tracking deficits in space are not related to the scarcity of specific resources, but rather to an impaired handling of multiple simultaneous processing streams "costs of concurrence" as commonly observed under stress. Except for the tracking error, no other performance measure was reliably affected by space flight in this study.

The findings suggest that even after prolonged exposure to the space environment, subjects’ hand-eye performance remains compromised in two ways. First, single-task tracking errors are higher than preflight, possibly due to elevated stress levels. Second, dual-task costs are higher specifically when complex motor programming is required, possibly due to ongoing space flight adaptation. Thus both phenomena, stress and adaptation, may contribute to cognitive overload during space flight. Following the mission, performance returned to preflight levels within days, suggesting that the effects of stress and adaptation are reversible (Bock et al., 2010).

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Results Publications

    Bock O, Weigelt C, Bloomberg JJ.  Cognitive Demand of Human Sensorimotor Performance During an Extended Space Mission: A Dual-Task Study. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2010 September 1; 81(9): 819-824. DOI: 10.3357/ASEM.2608.2010. PMID: 20824987.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Bock O.  Components of sensorimotor adaptation in young and elderly subjects. Experimental Brain Research. 2005; 160: 259-263.

    Bock O.  Basic principles of sensorimotor adaptation to different distortions with different effectors and movement types: A review and synthesis of behavioral findings. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013 March; 7: 5 pp. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00081.

    Dalecki M, Drager T, Mierau A, Bock O.  Production of finely graded forces in humans: effects of simulated weightlessness by water immersion. Experimental Brain Research. 2012 April; 218(1): 41-47. DOI: 10.1007/s00221-012-2999-6.

    Dalecki M, Bock O, Schulze B.  Cognitive impairment during 5 m water immersion. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012 October 1; 113(7): 1075-1081. DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00825.2012.

    Jungling S, Bock O, Girgenrath M.  Speed-accuracy trade-off of grasping movements during weightlessness. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2002; 73: 430-435.

    Sturm T, von Richter A.  Design and completion of the PMDIS/TRAC table. 54th International Astronautical Congress, Bremen, Germany; 2003 Sept 29 to Oct 3 2 pp.

    Eversheim U, Bock O.  Evidence for processing stages in skill acquisition: A dual-task study. Learning and Memory. 2001; 8: 183-189.

    Bock O, Abeele SS, Eversheim U.  Sensorimotor performance and computational demand during short-term exposure to microgravity. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2003; 74: 1256-1262.

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Related Websites

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image Demonstration of the TRAC hardware and how the crew member will be anchored for the TRAC investigation on ISS.
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image NASA Image: ISS014E11056 - Expedition 14 Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria performs his first session of TRAC. TRAC uses testing of hand-eye coordination to determine how the brain adapts to microgravity.
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image NASA Image: ISS014E11051 - Russian Cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin is seen here performing a TRAC session during Expedition 14.
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image NASA Image: ISS014E16213 - Astronaut Suni Williams, Expedition 14 Flight Engineer, works with the Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC) experiment in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. The TRAC investigation will test the theory of brain adaptation during space flight by testing hand-eye coordination before, during and after the space flight.
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