Dexterous Manipulation in Microgravity in Parabolic Flights and on ISS

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V. Pletser; P. Sundblad; J.-L. Thonnard; P. Lefevre; J. McIntyre; R. Kassel; W. Derkinderen; M. Penta; T. Andre (2011), JBIS, 64, 335-340

Refcode: 2011.64.335
Keywords: Dexterous manipulation, eye-hand coordination, microgravity, gravity fields, parabolic flights, ISS

It has been shown that during exposure to microgravity in parabolic flights the control of interaction forces when manipulating an object adapts partially to the lack of gravity, yet evidence indicates that anticipation of gravity's effects persists in the short term. The motivation for these experiments to be performed in long-duration space flight is to understand how the central nervous system adapts to an environment without gravity and what will be the consequences of long-term adaptation when an individual returns to a normal (Earth) or partial (Moon or Mars) gravitational field.

The experiment “Dexterous Manipulation in Microgravity” (DEX) will target specific questions about the effects of gravity on dexterous manipulation, questions that cannot be addressed in the normal terrestrial environment. Some of the scientific questions have already been studied since nearly ten years and will continue to be addressed in experiments conducted in parabolic flights, during which it will be examined how the nervous system copes with repeated transitions between different gravitational environments. Results from these experiments provide initial data about short-term adaptation to 0g. The experiments proposed for ISS draw from these short-term precursor experiments, but will emphasize long-term adaptation of sensorimotor processes to 0g and re-adaptation to 1g.

A first conceptual definition phase of a DEX instrument has been completed under an ESA contract and is now ready to enter into the design and development phase in view of a launch on ISS in the 2013-2014 timeframe. In this paper, the science background will be recalled and several experiments performed during parabolic flights will be presented, showing how these early breadboards testing in microgravity have helped to refine the DEX conceptual design and how it could be used on ISS.

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