US Navy's 'Kraken' system to be used for terrifying astronaut study

24 volunteers will tumble around for an hour like clothes in a washing machine.
Chris Young
The US Navy's Kraken system.
The US Navy's Kraken system.

US Navy 

A new collaboration between NASA and the US Navy will see the space agency use the latter's 'Kraken' system to perform a human spaceflight study.

The "monster of a machine" will allow astronauts to experience on Earth the "disorientation that astronauts may encounter in space", a blog post from NASA reveals.

It will do so in a pretty terrifying fashion — by tumbling a group of participants around for an entire hour-long session like a rapid washing cycle.

US Navy releases the Kraken for spaceflight study

NASA will use the 50-foot-long (15 meters) Kraken system for a study that it hopes will allow it to mitigate some of the negative effects of spaceflight on astronauts.

For that study, a group of 24 active duty service members will ride the system for one hour, during which time they will be spinning around at accelerations up to three times the force of gravity.

That dizzying experience will allow scientists to collect data that could help them find ways to reduce well-documented symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, motion sickness, and vertigo, once astronauts have left their spacecraft.

"Shortly after liftoff in the Space Shuttle, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round as my body hunted for what was up, down, left, and right," NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock said in the NASA post.

US Navy's 'Disorientation device' to help astronauts combat dizziness

NASA explained that the Kraken system is particularly well suited to its study because it is able to simulate different types of flight. The space agency wrote that the system can "disorient occupants through sudden shifts in roll, pitch, and yaw, superimposed onto horizontal and vertical lurches.”

"With the ability to move six directions on its axis, the device can simulate complex flight scenarios that are difficult to recreate on Earth, including landing scenarios that could induce vertigo and nausea," Laura Bollweg, who manages astronaut health research at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in the NASA statement.

NASA will specifically aim to determine whether certain head movements could help to alleviate some of the worst symptoms experienced by astronauts during spaceflight.

"Anecdotes from astronauts suggest that performing slight head movements helps them recover a sense of balance more quickly," study lead Michael Schubert, a neurophysiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, explained. "Tests with the Kraken will allow us to rigorously determine what head movements, if any, help astronauts to quickly recover their sense of balance."

Once all 24 volunteers have exited the Kraken after their hour-long stint, half of them will perform head turns and tilts while wearing camera goggles to track their head movements. The goggles will also measure the participants' heart rates, how often they blink, and other factors. The participants will also answer a series of questions about how they are feeling.