Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 202, Issue 3, pp 649–659 | Cite as

Locomotor function after long-duration space flight: effects and motor learning during recovery

  • Ajitkumar P. Mulavara
  • Alan H. Feiveson
  • James Fiedler
  • Helen Cohen
  • Brian T. Peters
  • Chris Miller
  • Rachel Brady
  • Jacob J. Bloomberg
Research Article


Astronauts returning from space flight and performing Earth-bound activities must rapidly transition from the microgravity-adapted sensorimotor state to that of Earth’s gravity. The goal of the current study was to assess locomotor dysfunction and recovery of function after long-duration space flight using a test of functional mobility. Eighteen International Space Station crewmembers experiencing an average flight duration of 185 days performed the functional mobility test (FMT) pre-flight and post-flight. To perform the FMT, subjects walked at a self selected pace through an obstacle course consisting of several pylons and obstacles set up on a base of 10-cm-thick, medium-density foam for a total of six trials per test session. The primary outcome measure was the time to complete the course (TCC, in seconds). To assess the long-term recovery trend of locomotor function after return from space flight, a multilevel exponential recovery model was fitted to the log-transformed TCC data. All crewmembers exhibited altered locomotor function after space flight, with a median 48% increase in the TCC. From the fitted model we calculated that a typical subject would recover to 95% of his/her pre-flight level at approximately 15 days post-flight. In addition, to assess the early motor learning responses after returning from space flight, we modeled performance over the six trials during the first post-flight session by a similar multilevel exponential relation. We found a significant positive correlation between measures of long-term recovery and early motor learning (P < 0.001) obtained from the respective models. We concluded that two types of recovery processes influence an astronaut’s ability to re-adapt to Earth’s gravity environment. Early motor learning helps astronauts make rapid modifications in their motor control strategies during the first hours after landing. Further, this early motor learning appears to reinforce the adaptive realignment, facilitating re-adaptation to Earth’s 1-g environment on return from space flight.


Functional mobility Space flight Locomotion Adaptation Recovery 



This study was supported in part by NASA by a grant to Jacob J Bloomberg (Principal Investigator). We thank the participating crewmembers, whose cooperation made this project possible, and Jason Richards, Ann Marshburn, and Jeremy Houser for their assistance with data collection and analysis. We also thank the many support personnel from the Gargarian Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and at NASA Kennedy Space Center.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ajitkumar P. Mulavara
    • 1
  • Alan H. Feiveson
    • 2
  • James Fiedler
    • 1
  • Helen Cohen
    • 3
  • Brian T. Peters
    • 4
  • Chris Miller
    • 4
  • Rachel Brady
    • 4
  • Jacob J. Bloomberg
    • 2
  1. 1.Universities Space Research AssociationHoustonUSA
  2. 2.NASA Johnson Space CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck SurgeryBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  4. 4.Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering Group, Inc.HoustonUSA

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