Getting Used to Walking Again


Janet, a 42 year old astronaut at the time working for NASA's Johnson Space Center, was referred to physiotherapist because she had a hard time balancing while walking. Her physician ruled out any other cause for this condition and zeroed in on the long-term stay in zero gravity of space. Additionally, she had trouble concentrating at her new job and experienced trouble while sleeping. Her appetite was poor and she had no interest in taking vacation, even a short walk around the block. Janet had a serious balancing problem on a daily basis.

Space shuttle crew members often experience difficulty walking straight lines or turning corners when they come back to earth. They have to reprogram their internal software to cope with earth's gravity. Unfortunately, the reprogramming doesn't happen as quickly as one thinks during adaptive process. It may take around 4 weeks to up to 2 months to get back to normal. However, several institutes offer programs and therapies to speed up this transition. Here, astronauts are trained on treadmill while watching a moving projected image. The training system is designed to make these astronauts learn the concept and be aware of their situation. The brain is trained to become more adaptable to earth's gravity which is otherwise challenged with sensory conflicts.

Many research scientists have studied the ability of human brain to adapt to a new environment irrespective of its features. It is easier for humans to adjust in a different planet if they learn these adaptive techniques and face adaptive challenges through training. Moreover, science and technology have allowed these scientists to convert basic ideas of discoveries into novel ways of brain adaptation. They have invented systems so that astronauts make the transition as quickly as they can while running up the adjustment curve. New systems are integrated into basic training system of aerobic and resistance exercise that the astronauts have learned. Furthermore, astronauts can adapt to zero gravity space in a matter of a few days. However, adjusting back in earth after a long mission in space is not easy. For a short duration flight, this may take up to four days whereas a six month stint in a space station will take up to four weeks.

While getting used to walking again, each individual can join programs tailored to his or her needs. These programs can identify specific areas of the body affected by zero gravity space, better target treatment and help deal with balance issues. Certain facilities can often identify other factors contributing to imbalance. These facilities are useful in determining if further adjustment system is needed.


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