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Discovery Astronaut's Hand-eye Skills Tested by Canadians

(And no, we didn't shoot hockey pucks at them!)

A Canadian Space Agency sponsored experiment aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-116) conducted on December 12th, 2006 tested for the causes of reduced hand-eye coordination capacity in microgravity. Research that could have a direct bearing on all activities in microgravity from running a space elevator to manufacturing tasks to serving drinks in a space hotel without spilling them on the customer.

Astronaut Sunita Williams performing the PMDIS experiment on NASA's shuttle flight STS-116. (Source: NASA)
According to the CSA press release linked in the title above "experience and science experiments have shown that, while in microgravity, astronauts have a harder time reaching and pointing to objects than when they are on Earth. This could be critical in emergency situations."

York University's Dr. Barry Fowler designed an experiment that resembles a simple computer game to research the causes of Perceptual-Motor Deficits in Space (PMDIS).

Astronaut Sunita Williams, led by Dr. Fowler, used a joystick to click on various-sized targets appearing on a computer screen and tap with a pointer directly on a purpose-built touch screen. The experiment simulated multi-tasking by requiring Astronaut Williams to push a button in response to a tone while simultaneously hitting targets.

"Once the 'why' of perceptual-motor deficits in space is known ", said Dr. Fowler, "we can start looking at how to remedy this problem. This research in space could also lead to new medical knowledge on how the brain adapts or not to disease or injury that can confound hand-eye coordination".


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