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Next: Measuring the impact of space flight on cognitive performance and brain fitness

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The flight that brings space weight­less­ness to Earth (BBC Future):

Five, four, three, two, one…”

Not many air­craft cap­tains give their pas­sen­gers a rock­et launch-style count­down before take-off, but this is no ordi­nary plane. For starters, every­one on board, apart from the crew, is a sci­en­tist and has passed a full med­ical check – includ­ing a heart assess­ment. This is not a trip for ner­vous fliers…Klein is wear­ing a cap cov­ered in elec­trodes to mea­sure his brain’s activ­i­ty while he and two oth­ers react to audio sig­nals, use a key­board, and solve a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion dur­ing the 20-sec­ond peri­ods of micro­grav­i­ty. “It’s not a dif­fi­cult equa­tion but under the pres­sure of time it becomes a dif­fi­cult cog­ni­tive per­for­mance task.”

Phys­i­cal fit­ness is impor­tant for astro­nauts but so is brain fit­ness and there are poten­tial effects to con­sid­er from being in micro­grav­i­ty and also in iso­la­tion for longer dura­tions.

Long-term iso­la­tion can reduce cog­ni­tive per­for­mance but it has also been shown that dur­ing micro­grav­i­ty cog­ni­tive per­for­mance is increased,” says Klein. “We are inter­est­ed in the mech­a­nisms behind that. Brain flow is increased in micro­grav­i­ty so we are look­ing at the link between them.”

As well as gain­ing a greater under­stand­ing of an astronaut’s per­for­mance in space, this knowl­edge has poten­tial appli­ca­tions for design­ing bet­ter ways to help those with Alzheimer’s dis­ease or demen­tia.”

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