Neuromapping, or Spaceflight Effects on Neurocognitive Performance: Extent, Longevity, and Neural Bases, determines whether long-duration spaceflight causes changes to the brain, including brain structure & function, motor control and multi tasking – also determining how long it takes for the brain to recover from possible changes once the flight is over. Previous missions indicate the movement control and cognition are affected in microgravity.
Neuromapping will use functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) to asses any changes to the crew members’ brains comparing before and after scans. Behavioral and sensorimotor assessments are used to assess changes in perception, motor control, memory, attention and executive function. The overall goal of the experiment is to identify the neural mechanisms and operational risks of spaceflight-induced changes in behavior, and the characterization of the re-adaption process to the gravitational environment associated with the assessment of post-flight changes in brain structure.
Pre- and post-flight evaluations are comprised of card rotation (pencil & paper exercise consisting of mentally rotating target shapes to indicate whether they are the same or different from target shapes), mental rotation (memorizing a 3D object and matching it to a re-oriented 3D cube assemblage), Rod & Frame Test (aligning a rod to vertical within a tilted frame), digit-symbol substitution (decoding shapes into numbers using a presented key), functional mobility test (obstacle course on foam surface), bimanunal motor control (placing 25 keyed pegs into their slots using both hands while seated), Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential Test, Vestibular contribution to Postural Stability (maintaining balance on a sway-referenced support with eyes closed).
Pre & post-flight Neuroimaging includes structural MRI scans, Functional MRI during different tasks (sensorimotor adaption tasks, spatial working memory tasks, dual tasking), Resting state functional connectivity MRI & Diffusion weighted imaging. Inflight testing includes: Mental Rotation, Sensorimotor adaptation, and dual tasking exercises – all using a computer-based assessment tool.