Despite the recent breakup of the Columbia, astronauts are continuing their training, getting ready for future shuttle trips, although these may contain smaller crews. If you’ve ever gotten seasick, or airsick in a small plane, think of what astronauts go through. Before they get into the KC-135 weightless trainer, called the “Vomit Comet,” they come to NASA’s Dr. Pat Cowings for anti-nausea therapy. Astronauts call Cowings the Baroness of Barf. “I’m sort of proud of that nickname,? she says. “It lends a sort of prestige that I study throwing up in outer space.”
To conquer nausea, Cowings uses mental techniques, along with a skintight suit filled with body sensors. These track and monitor more than 20 physiological changes, such as a faster pulse, sweaty palms, and anxiety, that are connected to motion sickness. She teaches astronauts to recognize and then learn to manage those body changes as they occur. She thinks the same techniques can be used to conquer stage fright, as well as nausea that comes with chemotherapy.
So where can the rest of us get one of these suits? NASA astronaut Mae Jemison was so impressed with the technology, that she’s created a company to sell them to the public. She says, “If you want to train someone how to regulate themselves, you have to give them that feedback.”
NASA emails reveal that some scientists were considering the possibility that a falling chunk of debris had damaged heat-resistant tiles on Columbia’s left wing and wanted the shuttle examined by classified military satellites before it was launched, but this was never done. There was an intense debate about this up until the day before the shuttle disintegrated.
However, NASA says this was only one of the many “what if” scenarios that are always discussed at launch time. Robert Doremus, of the mechanical systems group at the Johnson Space Center, says, “We discuss cases sometimes that we don’t necessarily expect to see. There wasn’t any new data that came to us that said the tile problem might be worse that thought.”
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