A view of the cockpit of the Kraken.
A view of the cockpit of the Kraken, a device that can be configured to disorient those strapped inside. The parallel tracks on the left and right allow the cockpit to lurch forward and backward while it independently spins.
Credit: U.S. Navy

A monster of a machine is now allowing NASA scientists to study on Earth the disorientation that astronauts may encounter in space.

This machine is the U.S. Navy’s Kraken, a device that can vigorously spin occupants like laundry churning in a washing machine. A new collaboration with the Navy will allow NASA scientists to use the Kraken to build strategies that aim to ease motion sickness. Such strategies may not only help astronauts but could also offer treatment options for patients with balance issues here on Earth.

Astronauts may experience motion sickness on their launch into space and on their return to Earth. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, and vertigo – a feeling of spinning – which can make it difficult to carry out mission-critical tasks when landing or exiting spacecraft.

“Shortly after liftoff in the space shuttle, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round as my body hunted for what was up, down, left, and right,” said NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock. “Crew must prepare for the confusion that they will likely undergo during these gravitational transitions.”

Enter the Kraken, a 50-foot-long, 100-ton platform at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. It can be configured to replicate different types of flight to disorient occupants through sudden shifts in roll, pitch, and yaw, superimposed onto horizontal and vertical lurches. A spaceflight setting on the Kraken will allow NASA scientists to study whether a specific technology, coupled with head movements, may help soothe the motion sickness experienced by some astronauts.

Releasing the Kraken