Proposed Simulators for use in the US Space and Rocket Center Program for Visually Impaired Children


Eye Report No Longer Needs Ophthalmologist Signature

In April of 1999, Terry Schwartz, Director of Pediatric Ophthalmology at West Virginia University Eye Center, participated in an evaluation of all Space Camp training simulators. At that time recommendations were made in regard to those simulators and the SCI-VIS program.

It is the belief of the organizers of SCI-VIS and Space Camp that all students should participate in the complete "Space Camp Experience", yet at the same time, safety is our utmost concern.

This new evaluation will allow allstudents to experience the "Space Shot" (previously unavailable) and the Multi-Axis Trainer (previously needed permission of an ophthalmologist). The centrifuge was being replaced at the time of the evaluation period. A new simulator may be available for use during SCI-VIS but our students will not be allowed to experience it.

All students participating in SCI-VIS will be evaluated by the nurse and treated with the same medical scrutiny as a sighted camper. There is much concern for those campers who have head control and muscular-skeletal problems, shunts, cerebral palsy, etc. There may be restrictions placed on those campers by the Space Camp medical staff or by their family doctor. Space Camp medical staff has the final decision on all matters.

As a result of this study, the eye form no longer needs to be signed by an ophthalmologist. The Eye/Health Form along with the Student Information Form should still be filled out and the eye condition, acuity, and learning media listed. This is still very important to the SCI-VIS organizers. We accumulate this information and give it to the Space Camp counselors so that they may know your child better.

Any questions regarding specific ophthalmological concerns involving participation of your child or student in the Space Camp program should be directed to Terry Schwartz, M.D. at schwartzt@wvuh.com

We hope that the new policy will assist students, parents, and teachers with a better understanding of the simulators and at the same time provide additional experiences for campers when they attend our program.

View the entire report on the Space Camp simulators.

Dan Oates, Coordinator SCI-VIS

July 7, 1999


June 23, 1999

Dan Oates
WV School for the Blind
301 East Main Street
Romney, WV 26757

RE: Review of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Dear Dan:

Thank you for your kind invitation to attend the US Space and Rocket Center and evaluate simulators for their potential use in space camp for visually impaired school-aged children. It was an exciting visit (if not a bit nauseating). I can appreciate the tremendous learning potential for visually impaired children through this program. It is my hope that they will be able to fully participate in almost all aspects of the program without any untoward affect on their vision.

The enclosed evaluation includes my recommendations. You will see in the summary paragraph, I have made a few suggestions regarding counselors education with regard to the campers.

Once again thanks for allowing me the chance to participate in this exciting project, and my best wishes for your continued success.

With Best Wishes,

Terry L. Schwartz, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Director, Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus


Proposed Simulators for use in the US Space and Rocket Center Program for Visually Impaired Children

1/6 Microgravity Chair

This chair is designed to simulate the moons gravitational pool. The chair can move both vertically and horizontally. Vertical height is controlled by a counselor. Protective gear includes helmet and seatbelt.

The movement of this chair is extremely gentle. This presents no greater risk for a visually impaired child, regardless of the cause of visual impairment, than it would for a sighted child.

5 Degrees of Freedom Chair

This chair is designed to simulate movement in a frictionless environment. Movement in 5 different directions is possible, including: forward/backward, side-to-side, roll, pitch and yaw. Protective gear includes helmet and safety straps. Excursion of the chair is in great part controlled by the counselor .

Movement this chair is gentle with no rapid acceleration or deceleration. This simulator incurs no greater risk for a visually impaired child than for a sighted child.

Manned Maneuvering Unit-1 G Trainer (MMU)

This unit simulates a manned maneuvering unit operating in the micro-gravity of space. Similar to the 5 Degrees of Freedom Chair, motions include forward/backward, side-to-side, roll, pitch and yaw. Although inversion was previously an option, it is no longer allowed. Protective gear include helmet and safety straps.

Use of this simulator involves slow positional changes with no inversion or rapid acceleration changes. Movement in large part is controlled by a counselor. This simulator incurs no greater risk for a visually impaired child than for a sighted child.

Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT)

This unit simulates a tumble spin experience during reentry into the earth's atmosphere. The MAT does not spin more than twice in the same direction, but does produce inversion. There are rapid accelerations and decelerations. Theoretically there is no shifting of the inner ear fluid and therefore no vertigo with resultant nausea or vomiting is produced. Protective gear includes hand and foot restraints as well as a 5-point harness.

This trainer produces rapid but mild changes in direction. Dizziness and nausea may result despite an intact vestibular or inner ear system. There is minimal head restraint and therefore precaution must be exercised in children with poor head control. Otherwise, there is no increased risk for the visually impaired child than for a sighted. Theoretically, vestibular disturbance is inhibited by an intact visual system. Nausea and disorientation may persist in children with extremely limited vision.

Space Shot

This unit simulates the rapid acceleration of a rocket escaping earth's gravity. There is rapid acceleration and a slow deceleration. Safety precautions include a seat belt and a protective padded bar which fits over the shoulders. At the top of the ride as acceleration ends, campers experience a hard jolt as falling down into a padded seat.

This unit poses no greater safety risk for visually impaired children then it does for sighted children. The rapid acceleration and the jolt against the seat bottom may be more problematic in children with muscular-skeletal disease, in particular, poor muscle tone and head control.

Centrifuge

The Centrifuge is a simulator, which produces a rapid circular motion. This ride was unavailable. However, the instructional manual states that a 3g force (between 150lbs - 450lbs) is generated over a 15-minute ride. The subject will experience chest pressure. Breathing may be mildly impaired. As long as the head is still, dizziness or vertigo are usually not encountered. However, with head movement (i.e. lifting the head up) prolonged nausea and vomiting may ensue.

Although the simulator itself appears to pose no increased risk for a visually impaired child as compared with a sighted child, prolonged vomiting following the ride can cause unacceptable increase intraocular pressure. This would pose a risk of vision loss to children with end stage glaucoma. In addition, children with proliferative diabetic retinopathy or other retinal vascular anomalies would be at increased risk for intraocular hemorrhage. Vitreous hemorrhage may require a surgical procedure. Therefore, children with proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and stage glaucoma, or other retinal vascular anomalies may be at risk for vision loss from prolonged vomiting after riding this simulator.

Other considerations: Specific eye diseases

Retinal detachment

The question of risk as been raised specifically for children with a history of retinal detachment repair. Following successful retinal reattachment, the retina is stable or more stable than prior to surgical repair. It is unlikely that any of the above simulators pose a significant risk of retinal detachment. One exception is children with intraocular silicone oil or intraocular gas. In these children, positioning is essential for successful retinal reattachment. These children should not be inverted and in many cases should not lie on their backs. It is unlikely that these children would be participating in space camp activities since this would likely occur in the immediate post-operative period.

Although several eye conditions predispose retinal detachment, the simulators discussed above should not significantly increase the risk of detachment. A greater risk is associated with extracurricular activities (i.e. contact sports).

Glaucoma

Risks for children with glaucoma include prolonged inversion and persistent vomiting. Both of these conditions increase intraocular pressure. This should only be a problem in children with end stage glaucoma.

Eye Trauma

The risk of vision loss from eye trauma is of common concern in visually impaired. Protective eye wear would be appropriate for those children who have eye surgery (i.e. glasses with plastic safety lenses). To decrease the risk of trauma it would be helpful to provide counselors with a brief description of each child's visual dysfunction. The significance of general classes of visual impairment could be included in counselor training sessions. Examples include children with retinitis pigmentosa who function quite well under bright illumination but who rapidly become visually impaired with decreased environmental lighting. In these children, limited peripheral vision may preclude them from seeing common objects at floor level (i.e. trash cans). Children with extreme light sensitivity (i.e, achromotopsia) function quite well with decreased room illumination. However, in bright sunlight vision impairment increases dramatically and therefore mobility becomes more difficult, particularly in unfamiliar environments.

rev. 1/98