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Astronaut in Training: Mission–Control

In this activity students train like astronauts to test and improve their balancing skills.

Living in microgravity conditions has a big effect on astronauts’ bodies, even after they return to Earth. One of these effects is on their sense of balance.

Here on Earth, our bodies and brains use gravity to tell which way is up and which way is down. Gravity pulls small crystals inside our inner ear down, where they stimulate small hair-like nerve cells. These cells tell our brains which way is down. 

In space, it’s not only the astronauts who float, but also the crystals inside their inner ears! They bump left, right, up and down, stimulating nerve cells all over the place, sending confusing messages to their brains. Generally, it only takes a few days for their confused brains to adapt to their environment and learn to take cues about their body position by sound and sight instead. 

When they return to Earth, astronauts’ bodies and brains must readapt to Earth’s gravity. They can have trouble doing things as simple as walking in a straight line or turning a corner and it could take up to a month before they regain their sense of balance. Adding balance training to their fitness routine is an important part of their transition back to Earth.

This and other games were designed by NASA to simulate types of physical challenges astronauts face while travelling in space. 

Objectives

  • Experience and discuss some of the physical challenges that astronauts face.

Materials

  • Per Group:
    1 ball (basketball, soccer ball, tennis ball or similar)

Key Questions

  • What is balance?
  • How does your body stay balanced?
  • How will you know if your balance is improving?
  • What problems do you think astronauts might have when they return to Earth and have trouble with their balance?

What To Do

  1. In groups of at least 6, form a circle and stand on one leg. Space yourselves an arm’s length apart from one another.
  2. While keeping balanced on one leg, gently toss the ball amongst the players.
  3. A player is “out” if he or she loses balance or drops the ball. A player who is “out” can rejoin the game after hopping on one foot around the circle of players.

Teacher Tip: To play this game individually, stand on one leg as you bounce a ball against a wall and catch it again. Can you continue to do this for 30 seconds? 60 seconds?

Other Resources

NASA | For Educators | Train like an astronaut

Canadian Space Agency | Junior Astronauts
These activities are designed for youth in grades 6 to 9. They  focus on three streams—science and technology, fitness and nutrition, and communications and teamwork.