This Special Training Keeps Astronauts From Vomiting Everywhere

Astronauts also get motion sickness. But they learn to control it by training with NASA scientists like Dr. Patricia Cowings.

Some people are incredible human beings, who are mentally and physically so special they earn their place among the select few we call astronauts. And some people get sick to their stomachs riding in a car. And sometimes those people are one and the same. Thanks to one woman though, talented astronauts don’t have to be sidelined because their stomachs can’t keep their food on reentry.

Her name is Dr. Patricia Cowings, and she led the development of the Autogenic-Feedback Training, or AFT. Your autonomic nervous system controls things you don’t normally think about, like your heart rate, breathing, sweating, digestion, that sort of thing. And if you’ve ever experienced motion sickness you may notice those things start to spiral out of control. Dr. Cowings’ training teaches astronauts how to control what they usually can’t.

Cowings achieves this by figuring out where the trainee’s resting levels are, and then strapping them into a rotating chair that spins the bejesus out of them. Once Cowings knows how stress affects the trainee, she teaches them autogenic therapy techniques that focus their attention on something like the sensation in their fingertips. Trainees are taught to focus so well that they don’t pay attention to anything else like the room spinning round and round.

By changing their reaction to stress, trainees can keep over two dozen bodily systems in check and their lunch down. The uses go beyond preventing a mess inside your space helmet. Astronauts can use these techniques to help them perform better in stressful situations, or sleep better in microgravity. And amazingly training only takes six hours over the course of three weeks.