A researcher at the Delft University of Technology (TU) in the Netherlands has gained better insight into the reasons behind the development of 'space sickness' i.e. problems like nausea and disorientation that astronauts often face during space voyages.
Suzanne Nooij, who has earned her PhD on the back of this research, has revealed that rotating astronauts for a lengthy period helped her understand why do space sickness afflict them.
She says that the fact the symptoms of space sickness are suffered by astronauts even on Earth, following lengthy rotation, goes to show that such conditions are not caused by weightlessness as such, but more generally by adaptation to a different gravitational force.
She insists that her study confirmed the theory that nausea suffered by astronauts during space flights as well as that experienced after rotation are caused by the same mechanism.
Nooij focused her research on the organ of balance that is located in the inner ear-comprising semi-circular canals that are sensitive to rotation, and otoliths that are sensitive to linear acceleration.
Already aware of previous research that suggested that a difference between the functioning of the left and right otolith contributes to susceptibility to sickness among astronauts, she decided to determine whether the same outcome would result after lengthy rotation.
For that purpose, Nooij recruited 15 subjects known to be susceptible to space sickness in her study, and measured the otolith and semi-circular canals functions on both sides of the subjects.
It was found that people who suffered from space sickness following rotation had high otolith asymmetry and more sensitive otolith and canal systems.
Nooij said that such people could not be classified as sensitive or non-sensitive on the basis of this asymmetry alone, but could on the basis of a combination of various otolith and canal features.
She added that that observation suggested that the entire organ of balance was involved in space sickness, and that it probably entailed complex interactions between the various parts of the organ of balance.