Press Release

NASA Technology Used to Improve Health

By SpaceRef Editor
January 7, 2003
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NASA developed an innovative technology to help
astronauts combat motion sickness during space flight. That
technology becomes available in March for a much wider range
of human health and performance uses.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, America’s first African-American female
astronaut, and BioSentient Corporation, Houston, obtained
the license to commercialize the space-age technology known
as Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE). AFTE was
originally developed by Dr. Patricia Cowings of NASA’s Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The technique is a
patented combination of biofeedback and autogenic therapy
that allows individuals to eliminate or minimize their
unwanted physical responses to outside stimuli by
controlling their autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is
responsible for controlling and regulating involuntary
bodily functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, sweating,
blood vessel dilation and glandular secretions.

“What were previously considered involuntary, or autonomic,
responses are in fact under voluntary control if you are
taught properly,” said Cowings, who developed AFTE. “I have
never met anyone who could not control their bodily
responses to some degree the first time they tried. It’s a
function of knowing what to do,” she said.

AFTE consists of a system of compact, ambulatory equipment
to measure, record and display real-time ANS functions. It
is combined with a unique six to 12-hour training session to
teach individuals how to control their physiology using the
feedback from the equipment. Advancing the original design,
BioSentient has created a seamless system that includes a
garment a person wears that can measure and wirelessly
transfer physiologic data in real time; a small wrist
display; and a computer station that a trainer can use to
capture the data, monitor and teach a person the regulation

In various controlled studies conducted at NASA, Cowings
found that AFTE is 85 percent effective in reducing motion
side effects in both men and women, and individuals for up
to three years after initial training retain it. Since the
mid-1980s, AFTE has been used successfully with U.S.
astronauts, payload specialists and Russian cosmonauts. It
has been used successfully to return U.S. Navy pilots
suffering severe airsickness to active duty in high-
performance aircraft.

“BioSentient is examining AFTE as a treatment for anxiety,
nausea, migraine and tension headaches, chronic pain,
hypertension, hypotension, and other stress-related
disorders,” Jemison said. She took the training and
successfully used it during her Space Shuttle flight, STS-
47, in 1992. “Over 13 percent of adult Americans suffer from
anxiety disorders, like the public speaker who panics or the
athlete who ‘chokes’ on the field. With AFTE these
individuals can learn to control that anxiety without it
controlling them,” she said.

“Other potential beneficiaries of AFTE include business
executives, homeland security and law enforcement officers,
air traffic controllers, nuclear power plant operators and
others working in hazardous materials occupations where
optimal personal performance and situational awareness are
essential,” added Jemison, who also is a physician and
chemical engineer.

Those who provide services to patients such as
psychologists, psychiatrists, pyschophysiologists,
cardiologists, neurologists, physical therapists, athletic
trainers, biofeedback practitioners and rehabilitation and
behavioral therapists can use AFTE. By training their
patients and or trainees, these specialists can teach people
how to control their physiology without pharmaceutical help.

“The commercialization of this NASA technology is an
outstanding example of applying space research technology to
improve the quality the quality of life on Earth,” noted
Phil Herlth of the Ames Commercial Technology Office.

SpaceRef staff editor.