Parabolic flight: loss of sense of orientation

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Science  30 Nov 1979:
Vol. 206, Issue 4422, pp. 1105-1108
DOI: 10.1126/science.493998


On the earth, or in level flight, a blindfolded subject being rotated at constant velocity about his recumbent long body axis experiences illusory orbital motion of his body in the opposite direction. By contrast, during comparable rotation in the free-fall phase of parabolic flight, no body motion is perceived and all sense of external orientation may be lost; when touch and pressure stimulation is applied to the body surface, a sense of orientation is reestablished immediately. The increased gravitoinertial force period of a parabola produces an exaggeration of the orbital motion experienced in level flight. These observations reveal an important influence of touch, pressure, and kinesthetic information on spatial orientation and provide a basis for understanding many of the postural illusions reported by astronauts in space flight.