The objective of the Reversible Figures experiment was to investigate whether the perception of depth was altered in astronauts during long-duration spaceflight. The results of this experiment have just been published in PLoS One.
The investigation, led by ISU faculty members Dr. Gilles Clement and Dr. Bob Thirsk and sponsored by ESA and CNES, used ambiguous figures for studying visual perception. Reversible perspective figures can give rise to two different depth interpretations by the brain. However, there is a statistically known preference in 1 g. By contrast, after several months in orbit, the ISS astronauts perceived both depth interpretations for an equal duration. This change in depth perception during spaceflight is attributed to the lack of the gravitational reference for interpreting perspective depth cues. According to Dr. Thirsk “This result is relevant for space exploration because changes in 3D visual perception may influence the ability to accurately perform tasks such as controlling robotic arms”.
The idea for this ISS-based life sciences experiment was conceived by ISU participants and faculty during the SSP’10 summer session in Strasbourg. In addition to Drs. Clement and Thirsk, six ISU participants played significant roles on the team by assisting with administrative and operational aspects of the research. Some of them even evaluated the experiment under parabolic flight conditions. “The Reversible Figures experiment provided relevant, hands-on research experiences for the participants (now alumni) beyond the ISU campus,” said Dr. Clement. The project is consistent with International Space University’s interdisciplinary, international and intercultural foundation.