After returning to Earth after a 197-day mission, the astronaut stumbles like a toddler. In zero gravity, muscle strength and bone density decrease rapidly, and sensory organs gradually become dull. So it’s not only that astronauts can’t walk properly right after they arrive on Earth, but it takes a few weeks, or two to three years, to get back to normal life. To prevent such restlessness, NASA develops exercise equipment and programs that can strengthen muscle strength and cardiopulmonary endurance even under zero gravity. But it’s not as easy as it sounds to work out in zero gravity because the body floats around and there’s no sense of gravity. So this time, we’re going to look at how astronauts work out in space.
The first exercise equipment used by astronauts was a resistance band mounted on the Face 7 in 1963. Although it looks shabby compared to the spacecraft’s advanced technology, the resistance band was as good as a space machine. It was a gravity-free exercise and could be used in cramped spaces, and above all, it was sufficient to meet the amount of exercise required for short-term flight. In zero gravity, bone density and muscle strength generally begin to decrease after two weeks. Weightlessness is a factor that only applies to long-term stays. So if the Apollo 11 astronauts, who spent eight days exploring the moon, had brought home cable machines into space, they would have had no problem walking right after arriving on Earth. However, as space technology developed and the length of stay increased, the importance of exercise gradually increased. In 1998, as the space station allowed for long-term stays went into orbit, exercise equipment and programs developed rapidly. The importance of aerobic exercise has begun to emerge. For a long time, the heart, which has been out of the influence of gravity, gradually decreases in size, causing blood circulation disorders such as anemia, so exercise therapy was needed to prevent it. So now, the space station’s gym is equipped with two aerobics and one muscle exercise machine.
The first exercise device is a cycle ergometer. It is similar to the Earth’s cycle equipment, but there are no saddle and handlebars because it is not affected by gravity, and instead, they wear fixed equipment and pedal to prevent the body from floating. Astronauts receive PT from the ground. Their exercise content is delivered directly to the ground control center, and experts analyze the amount of exercise in detail and frequently provide personalized exercise intensity and programs.
The second aerobic device is the T2 treadmill. Unlike cycle instruments, treadmills need to reproduce the gravitational state. This is because the running mechanism is based on the movement of pushing the body’s legs away from the buckling. The pilot wears a fastener and connects the rubber band on the treadmills to his body. And then you adjust the length and pull the body to the floor, which is to set the weight. The treadmill is responsible for not only the astronaut’s heart but also the health of bones and sensory organs. It reportedly can prevent the deterioration of bone and sole sensation because it steadily stimulates the leg bones and soles of the feet while running.
The last instrument is ARED, an advanced resistance exercise device. In 2009, it was installed on the space station, including a deadlift, squat, bench press, and shoulder press. You can do a total of 29 exercises. The ARED has been recreated using a vacuum cylinder, and the load can be set to a maximum of 274 kg. Considering the weight you lose during the exercise process, you can feel only 130kg, which is half of your maximum weight. Pilots enjoy bench pressing the most out of ARED’s 29 exercises. This is because the space station has a unique experience of exercising facing the observatory, the “cupola window.”
Astronauts exercise six times a week for two hours a day. It is said that there are times when the body gets better when returning to Earth because it is never smooth. In order for humans to go to Mars, they need to solve various problems such as developing spacecraft engines, preparing for radiation exposure, and coordinating exploration points. One of the problems they need to solve is exercise. You can’t expect space station-level exercise equipment and programs on cramped probes. The six-month-long flight to Mars will significantly reduce the bone density and muscle strength of the passengers. Even though gravity on Mars is one-third of Earth’s, it will be difficult for them to work immediately. So, NASA is focusing on developing lighter and more compact exercise equipment. In 2016, they presented their research results by introducing the MED-2 which is reminiscent of a rowing machine. Elon Musk mentioned sending humans to Mars by 2029. How will the exercise equipmentl be sent to Mars develop for the rest of the year?