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Space Fog

Scientific and surgical procedures on Earth are difficult enough. Imagine trying to carry out a long process of fine motor tasks while you feel weightless, groggy and upside down.

A big obstacle to translating scientific studies from Earth to outer space is planning for “space stupids,” or “space fogs.” These terms refer to the feelings of reduced cognitive ability and disorientation that astronauts often experience once they are in orbit. The effects can become severe, leading to vomiting and mood swings.

The main cause for this condition isn’t precisely known, but it is thought that the symptoms begin with the sharp transitions in gravity before, during, and after launch. It may be possible that radiation exposure amplifies the symptoms. Once the “space fog” has set in, it is very similar to Sopite syndrome, a motion-induced drowsiness.

Testing our novel bone-healing agent in space requires the astronauts to carry out several time-dependent interactions with mice. In the lab on Earth, we have planned for the equipment and containment the astronauts use, but we also have to try to adjust for the unique mental strains of working with space fog. The astronauts can work each day for about 6.5 hours.

On Earth, some of the tasks for collecting data on our bone-healing agent take less than five minutes. In space, the same tasks may take the astronauts more than an hour, due to the instrumentation required and the intermittent rest needed to relieve the effects of space fog. We have to plan the timing for our experimental procedures such that neither the data nor the astronauts are put at risk.

In addition to the clinical impacts of understanding our bone-healing agent in a microgravity environment, our study may build knowledge on working with space fog, and serve to improve future studies with rodents in space.

Written by David

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carl Pinkham