Neurovestibular considerations for sub-orbital space flight: A framework for future investigation

Faisal Karmali, Mark Shelhamer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Commercial sub-orbital operators will soon offer the excitement of traveling to space to thousands of people. Based on previous experience in space flight and parabolic flight, sensorimotor disruptions in eye movements, postural stability, and motor coordination are likely in these travelers. Here we propose a framework for developing strategies to overcome these sensorimotor disruptions. We delineate how approaches should differ from those applied to orbital flight and between sub-orbital passengers and pilots based on differing frequency of flights and mission objectives. Sensorimotor adaptation is one strategy for overcoming disruptions; an important question is whether it occurs quickly enough to be of use during periods of reduced and enhanced gravity lasting less than five minutes. Data are presented showing that sensorimotor adaptation of the pitch vestibulo-ocular reflex during parabolic flight takes a few consecutive days of flying to overcome an initial disruption. We conclude with recommendations for operators and researchers to improve safety and comfort during sub-orbital o perations. We recommend using parabolic flight as a tool for pre-adapting sub-orbital passengers, along with further research into the required quantity and timing of these pre-adaptation flights and the tasks conducted during these flights. Likewise, for sub-orbital pilots, we recommend emphasizing recency of experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Vestibular Research: Equilibrium and Orientation
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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