The Zero-Gravity Band
By Michele Catanzaro, PhD Physics and journalist
“Zero gravity has some disadvantages […]. Many people get dizzy. The way to feel better is to let go and convince your visual system that “up” is any point where your head points, and “down” is where your feet are.
American astronaut Marsha Ivins expresses very well the strangeness produced by micro-gravity. Gravity is part of the experience of each individual since the formation of the nervous system. Moving away from the attraction of the Earth represents an unprecedented change. And it also implies (it demands, according to Ivins) a radical change in how reality looks.
Outer space has always been seen as an inhospitable place for life: there is no gravity, oxygen, nor radiation protection. However, this perception is changing. The Universe could be full of more or less cozy corners.
In 1967 the first “extremophile” organisms were discovered, capable of living inside a volcano or ocean depths, in conditions similar to those of certain places in the Solar System. In recent years, evidence shows the presence of organic molecules on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In 1995, the first “exoplanet” was discovered, a planet external to the Solar System. Since then, thousands have been discovered, some of which are very similar to The Earth.
The physicist Stephen Hawking has been exhorting humanity for years to look for a new planet, to save itself from climate change. The businessman Elon Musk hopes to fight it with his Tesla electric cars. But if this plan fails, he has an ace in the sleeve: leave the Earth with its SpaceX rockets.
All these approaches may seem somehow unrealistic but they are parallel to things such tourist space trips, missions to exploit the resources of planets and comets, and so on. Everything points to a greater human presence in space.
What cultural impacts will this have? How will our ways of looking at reality change? The “Zero Gravity Band” project puts these questions from a basic and at the same time tremendously original point of view. How does aesthetic perception change in conditions of micro-gravity? How is artistic production modified in such environment?
For example, gravity seems to affect the perception of verticality. We identify as vertical what is aligned with gravity. Moreover, under normal conditions we have a clear predilection for vertical lines, according to studies of neuroscientist, Elisa Ferrè .
The researcher has verified that this predilection – which manifests itself from the Egyptian obelisks to the orthogonal lines of Mondrian – can be made disappear by manipulating the vestibular system. That is to say, the set of internal sensors in the ear, which carry the signal of gravity to the brain, among others. The project aims to stretch this thread and check what happens when gravity is virtually eliminated, during a micro-gravity flight.
The “Zero-Gravity Band” project goes much further by proposing a whole creative process. The analysis of its results promises to be inspiring.
In addition, it will also have something to say about things on Earth (as always with space research). Understanding better the mechanisms of orientation and balance could illuminate the mysterious phenomenon of the dizziness produced by virtual reality that affects 80% of its users, although there is no real movement. Reducing nausea is also one of the outstanding challenges of the autonomous car industry.
Finally, the project will allow to some reflection on the limits of the human exploration of space: biased barriers that are currently unfathomable, which may only be overcome by cyborg technology.