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Researching a workout device to help keep the balance system in shape

HOUSTON (June 24, 2003) Astronauts on extended missions go into space with a spring in their step but rarely return from the International Space Station (ISS) walking steady.

"We want to develop a training device to counter the effects while in space and help astronauts recover more quickly upon return to Earth," said Dr. Jacob Bloomberg, a researcher on the National Space Biomedical Research Institute's (NSBRI) neurovestibular adaptation team.

Returning astronauts walk with an unstable gait and wide stance and can take almost two weeks to fully recover their footing after a long-duration flight on the ISS. A new treadmill training system being researched could help shorten or remove post-flight balance problems and eventually help elderly patients and others with similar problems.

Bloomberg and his team are using a new, integrated research protocol to discover and test ways to counter the ill effects of space flight on the balance and walking systems. The goal of the research is to develop an in-flight treadmill training system that will improve the brain's ability to readapt to gravity environments whether it is a return to Earth or a landing on Mars. In addition to developing training programs, Bloomberg is working on better ways to evaluate balance and walking function in returning astronauts.

"Rather than study individual systems in isolation we're looking at how multiple systems interact and adapt during space flight to cause balance problems," said Bloomberg, senior research scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center. "We are working to understand how multiple, interdependent full-body sensory-motor systems are integrated to produce a complex behavior like walking."

A person's performance on a unique series of integrated tests an obstacle course, a treadmill and visual acuity test will help the researchers develop solutions to not only balance and mobility, but also eye coordination. These tests will serve to eva
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Contact: Liesl Owens
lkowens@bcm.tmc.edu
713-798-7595
National Space Biomedical Research Institute
24-Jun-2003


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