This paper is addressed to expanding our understanding of the effects of hypoxia training on our bodies to better model its dynamics and leverage some of its implications and effects on human health. Hypoxia training is a recommended practice for military and civilian pilots that allow them to recognize their early hypoxia signs and symptoms, and Scientist Astronaut Candidates (SACs) who underwent hypobaric hypoxia (HH) exposure as part of a training activity for prospective suborbital flight applications. This observational-analytical study describes physiologic responses and symptoms experienced by a SAC group before, during and after HH exposure and proposes a model for assessing predicted versus observed physiological responses. A group of individuals with diverse Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) backgrounds conducted a hypobaric training session to an altitude up to 22,000 ft (FL220) or 6,705 meters, where heart rate (HR), breathing rate (BR) and core temperature (Tc) were monitored with the use of a chest strap sensor pre and post HH exposure. A pulse oximeter registered levels of saturation of oxygen (SpO2), number and duration of desaturations during the HH chamber flight. Hypoxia symptoms as described by the SACs during the HH training session were also registered. This data allowed to generate a preliminary predictive model of the oxygen desaturation and O2 pressure curve for each subject, which consists of a sixth-order polynomial fit during exposure, and a fifth or fourth-order polynomial fit during recovery. Data analysis showed that HR and BR showed no significant differences between pre and post HH exposure in most of the SACs, while Tc measures showed slight but consistent decrement changes. All subjects registered SpO2 greater than 94% for the majority of their individual HH exposures, but all of them presented at least one clinically significant desaturation (SpO2 < 85% for more than 5 seconds) and half of the individuals showed SpO2 below 87% for at least 30% of their HH exposure time. Finally, real time collection of HH symptoms presented temperature somatosensory perceptions (SP) for 65% of individuals, and task-focus issues for 52.5% of individuals as the most common HH indications. 95% of the subjects experienced HH onset symptoms below FL180; all participants achieved full recovery of HH symptoms within 1 minute of donning their O2 mask. The current HH study performed on this group of individuals suggests a rapid and fully reversible physiologic response after HH exposure as expected and obtained in previous studies. Our data showed consistent results between predicted versus observed SpO2 curves during HH suggesting a mathematical function that may be used to model HH performance deficiencies. During the HH study, real-time HH symptoms were registered providing evidenced SP and task focusing as the earliest and most common indicators. Finally, an assessment of HH signs of symptoms in a group of heterogeneous, non-pilot individuals showed similar results to previous studies in homogeneous populations of pilots.
Spaceflight is considered the last frontier in terms of science, technology, and engineering. But it is also the next frontier in terms of human physiology and performance. After more than 200,000 years humans have evolved under earth’s gravity and atmospheric conditions, spaceflight poses environmental stresses for which human physiology is not adapted. Hypoxia, accelerations, and radiation are among such stressors, our research involves suborbital flights aiming to develop effective countermeasures in order to assure sustainable human space presence. The physiologic baseline of spaceflight participants is subject to great variability driven by age, gender, fitness, and metabolic reserve. The objective of the present study is to characterize different physiologic variables in a population of STEM practitioners during an aerobatic flight. Cardiovascular and pulmonary responses were determined in Science Astronaut Candidates (SACs) during unusual attitude aerobatic flight indoctrination. Physiologic data recordings from 20 subjects participating in high-G flight training were analyzed. These recordings were registered by wearable sensor-vest that monitored electrocardiographic tracings (ECGs), signs of dysrhythmias or other electric disturbances during all the flight. The same cardiovascular parameters were also collected approximately 10 min pre-flight, during each high-G/unusual attitude maneuver and 10 min after the flights. The ratio (pre-flight/in-flight/post-flight) of the cardiovascular responses was calculated for comparison of inter-individual differences. The resulting tracings depicting the cardiovascular responses of the subjects were compared against the G-loads (Gs) during the aerobatic flights to analyze cardiovascular variability aspects and fluid/pressure shifts due to the high Gs. In-flight ECG revealed cardiac variability patterns associated with rapid Gs onset in terms of reduced heart rate (HR) and some scattered dysrhythmic patterns (15% premature ventricular contractions-type) that were considered as triggered physiological responses to high-G/unusual attitude training and some were considered as instrument artifact. Variation events were observed in subjects during the +Gz and –Gz maneuvers and these may be due to preload and afterload, sudden shift. Our data reveal that aerobatic flight influenced the breathing rate of the subject, due in part by the various levels of energy expenditure due to the increased use of muscle work during these aerobatic maneuvers. Noteworthy was the high heterogeneity in the different physiological responses among a relatively small group of SACs exposed to similar aerobatic flights with similar Gs exposures. The cardiovascular responses clearly demonstrated that SACs were subjected to significant flight stress. Routine ECG monitoring during high-G/unusual attitude flight training is recommended to capture pathology underlying dangerous dysrhythmias in suborbital flight safety. More research is currently being conducted to further facilitate the development of robust medical screening, medical risk assessment approaches, and suborbital flight training in the context of the evolving commercial human suborbital spaceflight industry. A more mature and integrative medical assessment method is required to understand the physiology state and response variability among highly diverse populations of prospective suborbital flight participants.