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Effect of Mental Arithmetic on heart rate responses during Parabolic Flights: the Barcelona Zero-G Challenge


When an astronaut transitions from a low to high gravitational environment, fluid shifts from the head towards the feet resulting in orthostatic intolerance and syncope. Ground based experiments have shown that by stimulating the cardiovascular system via simple mental stressors, syncope can be delayed, potentially enabling astronauts to reach assistance before loss of consciousness. However, the effect of mental stressors on the stimulation of the cardiovascular system in gravitational environments different than that of Earth’s is unknown. As such, this paper investigates the effects that mental stressors under various gravitational environments. To do this, a pilot study was performed in which two participants were flown on two separate parabolic flights that simulated hyper and hypogravity conditions. The plane used was an Aerobatic Single-Engine Cap-10B plane (twin seater), and each participant executed 11 parabolas. The participants were the winners of the Barcelona Zero-G Challenge 2011 organized by UPC Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya-BarcelonaTech and Aeroclub Barcelona-Sabadell. Measurements were made of the participants’ hemodynamic and autonomic response throughout the parabolas, using a Chronocord: high precision HRV monitor. Comparisons of the baseline response without mental stressors, and the response with mental stressors during different gravitational loading conditions were made. It was observed that there is an increase in cardiovascular activity during hypo- and hyper-gravity when performing mental arithmetic. Our results show that the twin seater aerobatic single engine CAP-10B aicraft can provide changing gravitational loading conditions for enough periods to study changes in physiological systems.

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We wish to extend our sincere thanks to the Aeroclub Barcelona-Sabadell and BAIE (Barcelona Aeronautics and Space cluster) for the support of this experiment. The team would also like to thank the International Space University for giving us the opportunity to involve ourselves with this project.

Dr Nandu Goswami, head of the research unit “Gravitational Physiology and Medicine” of the Institute of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, Austria was the supervisor of the ISU students who won the Barcelona Zero-G Challenge (Jeffrey Osborne, Maria Victoria Alonsoperez Lanza and David Ferrer Desclaux).

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Correspondence to Nandu Goswami.

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Osborne, J.R., Alonsopérez Lanza, M.V., Desclaux, D.F. et al. Effect of Mental Arithmetic on heart rate responses during Parabolic Flights: the Barcelona Zero-G Challenge. Microgravity Sci. Technol. 26, 11–16 (2014).

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  • Mental arithmetic
  • Parabolic flights
  • Chronocord
  • Heart rate
  • Heart rate variability
  • Barcelona Sabadell airport