Space motion sickness (SMS) is a problem during the first 72 h of space flight and during transitions from different gravity environments. There currently are no effective drug countermeasures for SMS that also accommodate the retention of optimal cognitive function. This creates a dilemma for astronauts because cognitive skills are particularly important during gravity transitions (e.g., take-off and landing). To quantify the cognitive side effects of potential drug countermeasures, an automated delayed matching-to-sample (DMTS) procedure was used to assess visual working memory before and after drug countermeasures (meclizine 25 mg, scopolamine 0.4 mg, promethazine 25 mg, or lorazepam 1 mg, given orally approximately 45 min prior to testing) and/or the induction of SMS by vestibular stimulation in a rotary chair (spinning). Sixty-seven normal healthy volunteers (mean age, in years, 26.6+/-4.8 S.D.; 24 females and 43 males) each participated in two test sessions, one 'off' drug and one 'on' drug. Spinning by itself significantly decreased task accuracy (Acc) and choice response speed, especially at longer recall delays. Meclizine alone had no effect on Acc or speed with or without spinning. Scopolamine alone decreased Acc, and with spinning, slowed speed. Promethazine alone had no adverse effect, but combined with spinning, decreased Acc and speed. Lorazepam alone decreased speed, and with spinning, decreased Acc. The data suggest that, at clinically useful doses, the rank order of the drugs with the best cognitive profiles is meclizine>scopolamine>promethazine>lorazepam.