A month ago to the day, I wrote about Sergei Krikalev’s record-setting time in space: 748 days. I also mentioned that it was at possible detriment to his health: being in a “zero G” environment takes its toll on the body in numerous way. Chief among them is bone density and muscle loss. The body doesn’t need the excess bone and muscle tissue to support itself in space so it gets rid of it to be more efficient. Obviously this poses some problems when you return to Earth and are unable to stand up or otherwise function normally, so astronauts on long space missions exercise to minimize the impact to their health.
Typically, they exercise on a treadmill, running with elastic suspender-like contraptions to simulate gravity in a crude way. Now a new device, called the Space Cycle, being developed at UC Irvine utilizes artificial gravity through centrifugal forces. The device scales from 1G to 5Gs, and allows two people to exercise on it simultaneously. One on an elliptical machine or bike, and the other doing a sort of squat. The one pedalling causes the cetrifuge to spin (video).
It’s a cool idea, though looking at the video leads me to believe that unless the device is shrunk somewhat, it’ll be too large to fit inside current space quarters. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more it could be reduced, but its radius seems too great to store easily. Another problem with the cycle is that in “zero gravity,” any spinning object can cause torque on the vessel as well, so a way of counteracting this torque will have to be developed.
In any case, it’s nice to see some progress being made towards allowing astronauts and cosmonauts to stay in space for extended periods of time. Along the same vein, I mention in the writeup that I wondered about drugs like Fosamax and other bisphosphonates being used to prevent bone loss. Dr. Jay Buckey, a doctor at Dartmouth Medical School returned my email, stating that while such drugs had been investigated in bed rest studies (physiological analogs), they are not actually utilized, and that several people in space have reduced their bone density loss to minimal levels simply by exercising.
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