February 20, 2020

Space Station Research Group Wins NIOSH Safe-in-Sound Award

On Feb. 21, NIOSH presented its annual Safe-in-Sound Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Award to the 2020 winner, the Multilateral Medical Operations Panel (MMOP) Acoustics Sub-Working Group for the International Space Station (ISS). The research group received the award, recognizing innovation in hearing loss prevention, for identifying the risks facing ISS crewmembers in their unique work environment and developing solutions to reduce exposure.

Acoustical engineers, audiologists, industrial hygienists, and physicians from multiple international space agencies, including NASA and the Russian Space Agency, comprise the MMOP Acoustics Sub-Working Group. They work with ISS crewmembers to track noise levels, record noisy tasks and equipment, test the noisiness of equipment before it is sent into orbit, find solutions for reducing noise levels, recommend hearing protection equipment, and perform audiometric tests both before, during, and after flights.

The ISS functions as both a workplace and a home for, on average, six astronauts and cosmonauts, who may spend six or more months on the vessel at a time. During their time in orbit, they are constantly exposed to noise from the equipment controlling their air and water supply and the experiments taking place, raising concerns over the potential difficulties in sleeping, communicating, and hearing alarms, and threatening permanent hearing damage when the crewmembers return to Earth. The Acoustics Sub-Working group was created to address these challenges, and as a result of their success, no permanent mission-related hearing changes have been reported among American crewmembers for the almost 20 years the ISS has been in operation.

The award was presented at the Annual National Hearing Conservation (NHCA) conference on Feb. 21 in Destin, Fla. NIOSH is currently accepting nominations for the 2021 award until July 15, 2020.