Transfer and Retention of Training in Real and Virtual Spaceflight Environments


This research compared how effectively suborbital tasks are learned in an actual NBE compared with a VR-rendered NBE. This study demonstrated the efficacy of NBE-type training as a means to improve the effectiveness of training suborbital SFPs.

Manned suborbital spaceflights are just around the corner. SpaceShipTwo, operated by Virgin Galactic and New Shepard, operated by Blue Origin, will most likely fly fare-paying passengers sometime in 2020. Each passenger will pay $250,000. And, with just four minutes (240 seconds) of actual microgravity time, that equates to almost $1000/second. For spaceflight participants (SFPs) a category which will include tourists and scientists, the cost of incorrectly performing even simple tasks will be extremely costly.

In spaceflight, even for highly trained astronauts, the tactile-kinesthetic and vestibular systems are affected by weightlessness. Of course, astronauts traveling to the International Space Station (ISS) have plenty of time to adapt, but SFPs will have no time at all – the time from rocket ignition to microgravity is less than 5 minutes. Compounding this lack of adaptation is the fact that suborbital SFPs will generally only have 3 days of training (compared with many years of training for an astronaut headed to the ISS). To overcome the aforementioned difficulties this study evaluated two spaceflight analogous training systems specific to suborbital spaceflight: one that will take place in an actual neutral buoyancy environment (NBE) and one that will take place in a virtual reality (VR) NBE.

To date, there have no studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of VR as a means of training suborbital SFPs. Nor have there been any studies that evaluate the utility of NBE-type training for suborbital SFPs. Not only did this study assess the effectiveness of each of these methods of training. It also developed a training tool for the commercial suborbital spaceflight industry. To that end, this study sought to achieve three objectives:

  1. Measure the effectiveness of neutral buoyancy dive training while wearing the EasyDive system as a means to train suborbital SFPs in a swimming pool
  2. Measure the effectiveness of neutral buoyancy dive training in an underwater-simulated VR environment as a means of improving maneuvering and performance of tasks in microgravity.
  3. Based on the results of objectives #1 and #2 a training program for SFPs will be devised.





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