The Human Test Subject Facility (HTSF) at Johnson Space Center is beginning a new study, involving exercise designed to maintain muscle strength and cardiovascular function. This is exciting news for many of us who have been involved with the Flight Analog Program over the years, because it's tough to get studies into motion, given all the design requirements for human testing.
Earlier this year, it was with great sadness we saw most the lunar programs subside, but many evaluations to find counter-measures for long duration stays aboard the International Space Station remain alive and well, and will of course be applicable when we someday prepare for longer missions into deep space (i.e. potentially Mars or asteroids).
The new project is called the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study, or iRATs. The program is now recruiting for participants to spend 35 to 42 days at the NASA facility on Galveston Island.
During the first 14 to 21 days, participants will be asked to complete an exercise training program, including a set of tests to establish their baseline physical condition. Upon completion, subjects will undergo 14 days of bed-rest, to simulate micro-gravity conditions. Test sessions will include aerobic and weight training exercises and a series of tests to determine changes in metabolic rate. At the end of the bed rest phase, subjects will stay at the Flight Analog Research Unit (FARU) for 7 days of "re-ambulation" for re-conditioning and follow-up testing.
This program uses resistance exercise 3 days a week. Specific exercises and intensities will be rotated such that each workout is different, with some days being heavier and some lighter. On resistance training days, 30 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity aerobic exercise will also be performed. On alternate days, high intensity interval aerobic exercise will be prescribed. These are also rotated, consisting of once-per-week 8x30 second sprints, 6x2 minute exercise bouts and 4x4 minute exercise bouts. All exercise training during bed rest will be conducted in the lying down position on specially designed exercise equipment.
So basically, paid volunteers will be mimicking exercise in space, with a reproduction of the "Colbert" Treadmill on the ISS, as well as a cycling machine and special weight machines. Subjects are paid $160 per day on the NASA ward, and will be asked to rate their comfort levels during and after exercise sessions; records will also be kept of their heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, and so on.
The Vertical Treadmill, and control console
Sounds a lot more exciting (well, at least far more active) than my initial micro-gravity simulations, where activity was not allowed! Previous campaigns examined atrophy and bone loss, but these new projects will see to what degree those tendencies can be curbed with exercise along the way.
The normal health screening applies, as it has in the past for all NASA studies, and of course anyone who applies is paid for screening time, even if they don't make it into the program. So I still think now what I thought then – what has anyone got to lose? If you think you might be healthy enough, give it a go! Or if you know anyone who would be interested in trying out the vertical treadmill, encourage them to apply!
With a tighter budget for actual space travel, what we do on the ground now is crucial. We can set the stage for things to come. NASA is always seeking people to "play astronaut" in these scientific simulations, in preparation for the day when our economy might be more robust, and a return to manned space flight pioneering is feasible. Go see the application form!