You may not have a chance to go to space yourself, but you can simulate a little of what astronauts experience during spaceflight. Work with a partner to complete this perplexing maze and experience the disorientation of astronauts.
Balance relies on input from several areas of the body to keep you from falling — organs of your inner ear, visual inputs and inputs from the muscles and joints in your legs and spine.
Our bodies and brains rely on gravity to tell us which way is up and which way is down, and whether we are in motion.
Gravity pulls small bio-crystals called otoconia (sometimes called otoliths) inside our inner ear down, where they stimulate small hair-like nerve cells. These cells signal movement to our brains as the otoliths respond to the pull of gravity as we shift.
These hair-like nerve cells in the inner ear team with semi-circular canals that are responsible for sensing motion when the head is moving (dynamic equilibrium), whether up and down, tilting or side to side.
The vestibule of the inner ear holds the structures that detect horizontal and vertical motion which occurs when the head is not moving (static equilibrium), but the entire body is. For example, in an elevator or launching in a rocket ship, sensing vertical motion.
When astronauts go to space, these bio-crystals float all around their inner ears and send mixed signals to their brains. Their eyes may be telling them that they are right side up, but their bodies may feel like they are upside down. For a few days (or maybe longer, if they’re unlucky) they experience “Space Adaptation Syndrome,” a feeling of motion sickness and disorientation.