Human centrifuge spins-up space exercise
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.
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.