Landing a shuttle while re-adapting to gravity can be disorienting. Now there's a way to simulate it on the ground.
- By Mark Betancourt
- AirSpaceMag.com, May 31, 2011
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Re-adaptation to gravity has not been a safety issue for astronauts landing the shuttle, says Moore. “It’s not like they’re totally incapacitated, it’s a fairly subtle thing. I think it just makes it harder to sense how you’re moving and how your spacecraft is moving.”
Three-time shuttle commander Bill Readdy claims he didn’t notice any spatial disorientation while landing the real shuttle—maybe because he was so busy at the time. “I thought it was much less about the physiological aspect of it than that there were so many tasks,” he says. “And the challenge is to keep all of that processing so that you don’t become saturated by the tasks.” He agrees that re-adapting to gravity has never been a worry for shuttle commanders. “[Landings] all end up well within the design parameters for the vehicle,” he says. “And of course the idea is to land safely on the runway,” not perfectly.
Still, if astronauts train with GVS, they could get used to the sensation of spatial disorientation before they feel it for real during a mission, mitigating potential performance problems on reentry. With just one shuttle landing left, the method won’t see operational use any time soon. But astronauts piloting future vehicles, perhaps even on Mars, may prepare using GVS training.
Part of Moore’s focus now is to fine-tune GVS to the point where it can be used in training without making astronauts motion sick, while still accurately reflecting what happens.
“Obviously, if you hit someone on the head with a hammer you could make them land the shuttle not as well as someone who’s not getting hit on the head with a hammer,” says Moore. “But we’re trying to develop a hammer that’s actually realistic.”