Space

Human centrifuge spins-up space exercise

Human centrifuge spins-up spac...
Astronaut Christer Fuglesang strapped into the centrifuge
Astronaut Christer Fuglesang strapped into the centrifuge
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Astronaut Christer Fuglesang strapped into the centrifuge
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Astronaut Christer Fuglesang strapped into the centrifuge
Illustrations depicting key aspects of the centrifuge, and how it could be installed in a module of the ISS
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Illustrations depicting key aspects of the centrifuge, and how it could be installed in a module of the ISS

A team of engineers from MIT may have brought us one step closer to keeping astronauts strong and healthy in space. They've created a centrifuge that will allow individuals to exercise whilst simulating Earth's gravity.

Currently, astronautsaboard the International Space Station attempt to mitigate bone andmuscle loss during their time in space by undertaking a time-consuming and rigorous exercise regime. However, exercising in spaceis not all that effective, and an astronaut can still expect to losea significant amount of their overall bone mass for every month spentin low-Earth orbit.

Research is beingcarried out on a worldwide scale to combat the detrimental effects ofmicrogravity, and some studies are yielding results. One such projectpioneered by researchers from King's College London and MIT would seeastronauts don a skin-tight bodysuit. It would to some extent mimicthe effects of Earth's gravity, by utilizing vertical strips of alightweight elastic material to create a pressure-loading system theequivalent of 1 G.

Without the developmentof such preventative technologies, it is possible that over thecourse of a manned mission to Mars (expected to last around threeyears), an astronaut's muscle, bone and cardiovascular systemcould degrade to the extent that it would simply cease to functionproperly.

Illustrations depicting key aspects of the centrifuge, and how it could be installed in a module of the ISS
Illustrations depicting key aspects of the centrifuge, and how it could be installed in a module of the ISS

The new MIT study's centrifuge takes the form of a metal cage, which a seatedastronaut would cause to spin rapidly, thus generating the centrifugal forcerequired to mimic Earth's nurturing gravity. While in the centrifuge,the astronaut would pedal a cycle ergometer while being monitored bya plethora of sensors designed to measure heart rate, blood pressureand respiration rate alongside a number of other vital signs.

The equipment is smallenough to squeeze into a standard ISS module, or possibly onto afuture manned spacecraft headed for Mars. The compact centrifuge wastested on 12 healthy human subjects, over three artificial gravitylevels – zero G, 1 G and finally 1.4 G, which saw the centrifuge spinat 32 rpm. It was discovered that the participants only experiencedsignificant discomfort while the equipment was coming up to speed, orslowing down.

It was observed that bysimulating Earth's gravity during exercise, more force was requiredto pedal the cycle ergometer and that this corresponded with anincrease in the participant's cardiovascular function. The teambelieve that by pairing artificial gravity with active exercise,astronauts can stave off some of the worst effects of microgravityeven on long-duration missions.

The results of theexperiments have been published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Source:MIT

5 comments
Wombat56
I thought there were limits on the amount of angular rate of change a person could take, else they were liable for water hammer in their circulatory system. Therefore I'm surprised that they can safely achieve that high a G force in so small a circumference without problems.
windykites
It makes me feel sick just reading about this. ' It was discovered that the participants only experienced significant discomfort while the equipment was coming up to speed, or slowing down.' So this means that every time the equipment is used the participants experience significant discomfort at the beginning and end of each use. Many years ago in the 1950s I remember seeing a space station design in the shape of a large wheel, which rotated fairly slowly to simulate gravity. An easier way to do this would be to have two chunks of space station, tethered together by long strong cables, and rotated at a comfortable speed.
Pelotoner
@Wombat56...blood-hammer maybe ;)
Volodya Kotsev
Yeah, the small radius of rotation is a major problem - to me. It creates discomfort to the middle ear and may decrease an astronaut's work-ability... Designers will probably return to the above mentioned larger radii centrifuges, provided that bosses decide the effort to bring such a big thing into orbit is worth the money... and they find the money.
StWils
WindyK, the best frame of reference is Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001. And, maybe, when Elon Musk and others get the bugs all worked out of their gear we can get around to building the next space station just like the model shown in 2001.