M01 — January 2012 — Lost in Space
Intro: On July 16, 1999, John Kennedy Jr. died when the plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard. Experts suspect Kennedy was a victim of what's called the "graveyard spiral." It can happen to pilots, including very well-trained pilots, because in certain situations the inner ear can cause disorientation. It can trick you into feeling motion that is different from reality. Specialists at Mayo Clinic in the Aerospace Medicine and Vestibular Research Laboratory are developing tools to help pilots and others who work in extreme environments stay safe.
The body is, unfortunately, easily tricked. We've been designed to walk, not to fly.
Dr. Jan Stepanek is director of the Aerospace Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic.
"Our lab primarily focuses on three areas: acceleration, high altitudes as well as spatial disorientation and prevention of problems with special disorientation."
Dr. Stepanek's team uses this chair to simulate what happens to the body when a pilot spins in flight.
It feels disorienting. If the light is out, I'd have no reference points as to where I am. So I would be very quickly disoriented.
Disorientation in flight happens to even the best pilots. A slow downward spiral is one of the most common situations and, unfortunately, can result in a crash. You see, your vestibular system tells you where you are in space. When you continuously rotate in the dark, your body tricks you into thinking you're not rotating. Not good if you're at the controls of an airplane.
This can happen to people who are extremely experienced because the sensation is so very powerful.
By learning what happens to the body as it spins in the dynamic chair, Dr. Stepanek is developing ways to help pilots avoid deadly situations. He also uses a human centrifuge, like this replica, to study effects of G-forces on the body.
When a plane flies very quickly and pulls a turn, G-forces start to act on people, and what that means is the heart has to work harder to maintain blood flow to the brain. And if that doesn't happen, then people can literally black out.
His work enhances what's called the anti-G-force maneuver, which was developed at Mayo during World War II.
The Anti-G Straining Maneuver is a maneuver where you tense muscles in a sequence, and you breathe in a certain fashion to maximize the blood pressure and maintain with that blood flow to the brain.
Studying how motion affects the body to keep pilots and others safe in extreme environments.
For Medical Edge, I'm Vivien Williams.
In addition to his research on G-forces and disorientation, Dr. Stepanek and Dr. Michael Cevette are also working on ways to combat hypoxia, motion sickness, altitude sickness and other issues that arise in extreme environments.
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