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How Did NASA Research the Effects of Different Gravitational Forces?

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine and NASA recruited deaf individuals to become test subjects for experiments on weightlessness, balance, and motion sickness. Their objective was to better understand the effects of space travel on future astronauts. Between 1958 and 1968, 11 deaf men -- who became known as the “Gallaudet Eleven” -- volunteered for experiments designed to show how the human body and mind function in extreme conditions. All but one of the test subjects had become deaf from spinal meningitis, which impacted their inner ear physiology. This meant that they could endure extreme motion and gravitational forces that would make most people feel nauseated.

A unique group of test subjects:

  • One of the experiments involved living in a circular room that completed 10 revolutions per minute.
  • The volunteers were all students at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, a university dedicated to educating deaf students.
  • On 11 April 2017, Gallaudet University opened an exhibition called “Deaf Difference + Space Survival” to share their stories. The exhibition included photographs, original interviews, and historic footage of the Gallaudet Eleven.
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