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Baseline Data Collection Facility

IMAGE: Chris Miller runs an obstacle course in the BDCF.

Wyle Laboratories employee Chris Miller -- a biomechanical engineer at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas -- runs an obstacle course in the Baseline Data Collection Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

International Space Station Expedition Five crewmembers are taking part in a series of experiments designed to help scientists find ways to help astronauts counter the effects of long-duration space flight on balance, mobility and eye coordination.

The studies -- which will use an obstacle course, a treadmill and a revolving chair -- could also lead to better testing methods and treatment for people on Earth who suffer balance and coordination problems because of birth defects, illness or aging.

The astronauts who volunteered for the experiments underwent their first postflight tests in the Baseline Data Collection Facility, or BDCF, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., before they returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where their tests are continuing.

Although the human research program is managed at JSC, KSC provides support with the BDCF, an example of the interdependence of NASA centers and the "One NASA" concept.

Dr. Jacob Bloomberg, a senior research scientist in the JSC Neurosciences Laboratory and the principal investigator in one of the upcoming experiments, stressed the importance of the BDCF to national and international researchers studying various aspects of astronaut physiology from bone loss to neurologic effects.

Collecting Data for...
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been performing an experiment to characterize the effects of microgravity on balance, mobility and eye coordination. Read more about it.

"Only here at Kennedy can you study the astronauts' response to space flight immediately after they land," Bloomberg said. "That's crucial to our understanding of how the astronauts are affected."

The Expedition Five volunteers, who spent months living aboard the station, began their testing soon after Space Shuttle Endeavour landed Dec. 7, 2002, completing mission STS-113.

Astronauts who spend months in orbit typically take about 10 days to gradually regain their balance and coordination, Bloomberg said. While those effects of weightlessness are uncomfortable on Earth, the discomfort would be greater for longer-term missions to Mars. It would hinder astronauts and leave them vulnerable after their landing on Mars.

"We believe we will be able to use the data from the Expedition Five crew and future crews to find training methods that will allow long-term station inhabitants to more quickly recover their balance and coordination when they return to a gravity environment," Bloomberg said. "It also has promising potential for the elderly and others who could undergo training to strengthen their balance and coordination."

IMAGE: Scientists prepare for a run in the revolving chair.

Dr. Gil Clement, left, assists Dr. Scott Wood in preparation for a test run in the BDCF's revolving chair.

Bloomberg pointed out that many senior citizens who break their bones first have a period of unsteadiness that precedes the fall. These balance disturbances are a typical part of the aging process, but they can be minimized through training, Bloomberg said.

"Your average person is aware of the need to add calcium to their diet and to work on strength training for the muscles and aerobic exercise to strengthen their heart, but they don't know about the importance of training for balance and coordination," Bloomberg said.

The BDCF is staffed by Bionetics and managed by NASA-KSC's International Space Station/Payloads Processing Directorate.

"We at the BDCF work to facilitate human research by NASA scientists and NASA-funded scientists across the world," said Mimi Shao, a Bionetics' research scientist from the Life Sciences Flight Experiment Program at KSC. "It is rewarding to support research that is designed to maximize the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of space exploration. My personal motivation stems from improvements in medical science and the promise of life-enhancing breathroughs for the astronauts and the general population here on Earth."

Text and photos for this story were provided by Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport News.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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