Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trekkie NASA Crews


Photo blitz! This is one of those days where I am grateful NASA never copyrights anything. I lent my Star Trek TOS tri-corder DVD sets to an ex-co-worker-still-friend, who spotted my "Trekspedition" poster on the wall, and marveled that only one space station crew ever suited up in Star Trek garb.

Exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Nay, you jest. NASA has a rich history of crossing the streams when it comes to the Trek pop culture!

In 1993, the STS-54 crew of Shuttle Endeavour were the first to suit up in Trek uniforms (much like those in the Trek movie released during their training period, The Undiscovered Country). I particularly enjoyed astronaut Mario Runco’s use of the Vulcan ears and the Tich Tor Ang Tesmur hand sign.

Mae Jemison
That same year, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, also became the first astronaut to appear in an actual episode of a Trek television series, when she played Lieutenant Palmer in the episode "Second Chances" of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Influenced as a child by Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the original series (1966-69) to become an astronaut, she was invited by cast member LeVar Burton to guest star, after he heard she was a Star Trek fan.

The STS-90 crew of Shuttle Columbia flew in 1998, and the uniforms in their press photos thus reflect the designs used in the contemporary films Star Trek: First Contact and Insurrection.

Terry Virts, Scott Bakula, Mike Fincke
In May of 2005, astronauts Terry Virts and Mike Fincke joined Scott Bakula and the cast of Star Trek: Enterprise, playing 22nd century engineers aboard the NX-01 in the series finale. Fincke happily told the press he had watched episodes of the show during his 6-month stay on the ISS during Expedition 9 in 2004.

Expedition 21
In 2009, Expedition 21 on the ISS again took up the TNG design for their beautifully designed press poster, still available for download at NASA Spaceflight Awareness.

For a less authentic but appreciably creative view of astronauts sporting Trek themes, see heap big famous NASA-Trekkie geek Mike Okuda’s photoshop gallery: Peggy Whitson with Vulcan ears?? No wonder NASA let this guy design some of their mission patches...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Imaginary Spaceship


Today's humor tidbit comes to us from the GCFL net, or the Good Clean Funnies List. Always love a good space joke! The ones that are true are often the ones that are most groaningly humorous, and it's a good site to comb over for clean, amusing fun -- space-related or otherwise.

Imaginary Spaceship
They occasionally poke fun at the politics of NASA culture, the reason we haven't yet reached Mars, and perpetuate absurd but well-loved urban legends about moonwalkers.

Though their contributors do occasionally dip down into what could easily called political incorrectness... sometimes they can be a little TOO politically correct.

Just out of curiosity, I tried to find out which historical dictionary contained this alleged "imaginary" definition. I couldn't come up with an original source, but was amused by many of the descriptions in well-known modern sources:
Noun: Spacecraft. Origin: 1940–45; space + ship.

Oxford English Dictionary
A spacecraft, especially one controlled by a crew.

Cambridge Dictionary
(Especially in stories) a vehicle used for travel in space.

1. A vehicle that flies through space.
2. (cellular automata) A finite pattern that reappears after a certain number of generations in the same orientation but in a different position.
3. A spacecraft designed to carry a crew into interstellar space (especially in science fiction).

A vehicle designed to transport people or materials through outer space.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

50,000 hits!

Cutting Edge Technology

This week, my SiteMeter alerted me that my blog has registered fifty thousand hits to Pillow Astronaut!

When I first started blogging back in July of 2008, I had modest hopes that perhaps my family and close friends might visit occasionally. The number "50,000" was not even in the realm of my wildest dreams!

Fifty Thousand Visitors
I cannot tell you how happy I am that in my quest for generating enthusiasm about space research and space exploration, so many folks came along for the ride to share our passion for NASA and other world space agencies. Thank you so much to all of my readers for this amazing milestone! I truly appreciate everyone who has encouraged and supported me along the way.

- Heather

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ballunar & NASA Open House


Alert Reader Chris Hermes tells me this will be an exciting weekend in Houston! October 29th, 30th and 31st will be busy busy busy with the 17th annual Ballunar Liftoff, presented by the City of Nassau Bay and Space Center Houston! Rain or shine.

Admission will be $10 per vehicle into Johnson Space Center, where NASA is holding an "Open House" on Saturday. Astronauts will be signing autographs! Who's joining us?

Ballunar Festival and NASA Open House
The amazing schedule of events for the 3-day weekend includes team skydiving exhibitions, evening "balloon glows," arts & crafts exhibits, the usual presence from local restaurants to round out diverse concessions and tons of live music, including Texas singer/song-writer Kelly McGuire.

Of course, the hot air balloon competitions are the major highlight, and I love the names the participating balloon teams come up with! This year, we’ll be seeing Up Rohr (clever, eh?), Aerodactyl, Beemster Betty Bovine, Rainboze Too, Spa Force One, Texas Magic, Texas Star, Texas Racer and many (many, many!) more.

Ballunar Festival and NASA Open House
Novelties to keep the kids busy will be Disney shows and local dancers, Lockheed’s Shuttle Rendezvous, Air Sports Excellent Adventures, and many opportunities to catch local live musical acts. Just like Space Week, the Experience NASA zone with the Driven to Explore exhibit will be on hand, as well as the Kids Space Place and numerous NASA programs in the Teague Auditorium.

New additions to the festivities this year will be the “Mad Science Show” (whatever that is!) and the Preludes Dancers from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts!

Ballunar Liftoff Festival, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Its mission is to help the public learn about aviation and space exploration, and to sponsor and fund educational activities that encourage young people to learn about aviation and space and to study mathematics and the sciences.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dock Me, Baby


Rock me, baby... Dock Me, Baby... and now that I've dated myself even by knowing that song, we'll skip any further puns and just get to the point.

Now, anyone and everyone can dock at the International Space Station! According to breaking news on numerous space outlets yesterday, the International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) has approved a "docking system standard" to provide instructions for a mating interface.

So says the NASA press release: "The MCB consists of senior representatives from NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency; the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Science & Technology assisted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; the European Space Agency; and the Canadian Space Agency. The MCB is the space station's senior level management board. It coordinates the orbiting laboratory's operations and activities among the partners."

ISS Docking
Their new official website at invites readers to download the document detailing the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), which the MCB says will allow "non-partner agencies and commercial developers" to provide feedback on the physical features and design loads.

From what I can see on the many space forums I lurk about or comment upon myself, engineers everywhere and of many nationalities are already abuzz with praise and criticism of all kinds... and already debating furiously who will perfect the soft capture or hard capture mating system (or who already has them).

In general, most are in favor of standardization, given the new era of cooperation. But, as ever with humans, agencies and nations, the devil emerges in the details. While the MCB added the mild disclaimer that "technical teams from the five space station partner agencies continue to work on additional refinements and revisions to the initial standard," many already accuse the coalition of "imposing" a standard that is already lower quality than some nations have developed on their own.

MCB maintains the effort is only to "ensure commonality" without dictating any particular design – but many say the design the Russians have used for forty years is already ahead of these general specs.

ISS Dock
One commenter warm-fuzzied that "The creation of international standards is a step forward in reducing costs and increasing reliability of space systems from everyone," and I'd like for that to be true in the future. Less enlightened remarks push back time by suggesting: "What ever happened to America just making stuff that worked and if the world wanted to copy us, let them."

Well, this isn't 1969 anymore, and 26 other space agencies happened.

Find space agencies, crafts and museums!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Aliens Probably Think Of Us


In honor of Wiley Miller's wry take on the general absurdities of modern life, I'd like to share one of my favorite commentaries:

Lars From Mars
I've actually had this clipping on my refrigerator, nestled between NASA magnets, for more than a year. I was disappointed he didn't use this character for an entire series or story arc, given the rich pickings of how aliens might view humanity -- particularly sarcastic, advanced, flippant aliens.

Think of the possibilities.

Recently, a visiting friend caught sight of this on the aforementioned icebox, and practically had to be revived with smelling salts after a fit of hilarity. So I am appreciating my old cut-out cartoon with new eyes today, thanks Gill.

The original, and many other hilarious pieces (space and otherwise) are available at the Non Sequitur section of the GoComics Site.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mapping Space Crafts


Space Map update! A huge one this time...! This past week, I used yellow tags to add the locations of all American NASA space crafts on display in NASA facilities, museums, science centers and planetariums.

This update also marks the first move into international territory, given that much of [what is left of] Skylab resides in Australia, and one of the Apollo capsules is on load to The Science Museum in London, England.

Space Map Update

This took no small amount of research, believe me! The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules do move about from time to time... one is even located on a ship (though the ship doesn't run errands terribly often anymore).

Click on the map to go to the main Space Map page at, or click over to the main engine on Google Maps. In both of these spots, you'll see a larger screen where you can zoom in, zoom out, and examine precise locations.

Click on each yellow marker for descriptions of each NASA craft, including the year it launched, the crew that flew inside of it, and it's official call sign.

ALSO NOTE: The main page lists crafts by state, but this can be a bit bassackwards if you're one of those "organizational brains" like me who like to see things in order. So, I've made a secondary Space Crafts Checklist page for serious travelers, where all the crafts are in chronological order by program.

That's not OCD. It's just detail-oriented.

Pillownaut Space Map
While pondering world-wide sites, I also decided to add the NASA DSN, or DEEP SPACE NETWORK. The DSN is an international network of antennas that supports earth orbiting missions, interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the universe.

The DSN consists of 3 facilities placed 120 degrees apart around Earth: Canberra, Australia; Goldstone (Mojave Desert), California, USA; and Madrid, Spain in Europe. This strategic placement permits constant observation of a spacecraft mission as our planet rotates.

On the Space Map, the three DSN markers are in green! Go find 'em!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Abs In Space


CBS News has just featured a fantastic slide show on their website, showing all the different forms of exercise on the International Space Station. Great stuff!

Running and cycling and lifting, o my! It's harder than you'd think in micro-gravity. Grouped by theme from the NASA archives, the pictures show various astronauts exercising on all the available contraptions in space, from 2003 to present.

This shot of Koichi Wakata is my favorite, because it really brings home the idea that there is no "up" or "down" in weightlessness. It can be confusing for the mind and body to orient itself \during physical activity. The few hours per day one is "strapped into" one of the exercise machines is among the few times one would feel anchored – or as close to being "stationery" as one can ever be in space:

Astronaut Slideshow
JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata

Since things like standard dumbbells don't provide any real resistance in low Earth orbit, NASA developed the aRED, or the advanced Resistive Exercise Device – which astronaut Sandy Magnus is also shown using. Adjustable to body sizes and types, the system allows people to simulate weight-lifting curls and presses.

Incidentally, it's also very similar to the device being used in the newest flight Analog simulation on the ground, in the NASA iRATS study... How timely for CBS!

The ESA's Thomas Reiter, as well as NASA's Daniel Tani and Ed Lu, are shown on the CEVIS, or the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolate System. Yeah, fancy way of staying "stationery bike in space." This will also be used in iRATS!

Thomas Reiter
German "Weltraumfahrer" Thomas Reiter

Wow, check out that cramped, equipment-laden box of buttons and wires! Not exactly the refreshing bike ride in the park you might enjoy on Earth... but a small price to pay to attempt to keep hearts, bones and muscles healthy during long-duration expeditions.

Sunita Williams and Nicole Stott are shown running the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System (TVIS) in the Zvezda service module – eventually to be replaced by the newer Colbert Treadmill (recently brought up to the ISS by STS-128) now being tested in the Harmony module.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FAP Happens


Subtitle of this post should be The Scientist II... continuing from the last post about Ronita Cromwell, head scientist of the Flight Analog Program (FAP) for the past 3 years.

She prepared a marvelous slideshow about all the various analog programs that support NASA investigations, such as NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission operations), Haughton-Mars simulations, isolation experiments in Antartica, and medical simulation studies.

Some of my blogger-buds, such as Amnon Govrin at Spacepirations, Brian Shiro at Astronaut for Hire and Laksen Sirimanne at The Sky Is Not The Limit have participated in these programs... definitely check out their great blogs for details. I have yet to nail an interview with someone who has been in the underwater NEEMO habitat. Searching!

The latter portion of the slideshow will be of interest to folks considering their application for the new iRATS medical studies at NASA. She included details about screening, the specialized diet...and slide #16 shows "my" old room at UTMB on Galveston Island, LOL! But perhaps it could be yours soon...

Dr. Cromwell also spent 25 years in academia as a faculty member at a number of universities. Her research was in the area of visual and vestibular control of dynamic balance. She began by focusing on physiological mechanisms for dynamic balance and then applied this to fall prevention in older adults.

While I, of course, have always been most interested in her work for NASA in the area of human analogs, her incredible history of publications over the past decade is impressive... and some of them truly drive home the message that “analog” studies for space flight can also be incredibly beneficial to medical conditions we face on Earth:

Cromwell, RL, Newton, RA, Carlton, LG: Horizontal plane head stabilization during locomotor tasks. Journal of Motor Behavior, 33:49-58, 2001.

Cromwell, RL, Wellmon, R: Sagittal plane head stabilization during level walking and ambulation on stairs. Physiotherapy Research International. 6:179-192, 2001.

Cromwell, RL, Newton, RA, Forrest, G: Head stability in older adults during walking with and without visual input. Journal of Vestibular Research, 11,105-114, 2001.

Cromwell, RL, Newton, RA, Forrest, G: Influence of vision on head stabilization strategies in older adults during walking. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 57A: M442-M448, 2002.

Cromwell, RL: Movement strategies for head stabilization during incline walking. Gait & Posture, 17: 246-253, 2003.

Cromwell, RL & Newton, RA: Relationship between balance and gait stability in healthy older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 12:90-100, 2004.

Cromwell, RL, Schurter, JB, Shelton, S, Vora, S. Head stabilization strategies in the sagittal plane during locomotor tasks. Physiotherapy Research International, 9:33-42, 2004.

Cromwell, RL, Pidcoe, PE, Griffin, LA, Sotillo, T, Ganninger, D, Feagin, M: Adaptations in horizontal head stabilization in response to altered vision and gaze during natural walking. Journal of Vestibuar Research, 14: 367-373, 2004.

Rogers, HL, Cromwell, RL, Newton, RA: Association of balance measures and perception of fall risk on gait speed: a multiple regression analysis. Experimental Aging Research, 31:191-203, 2005.

Cromwell, RL, Meyers, PM, Meyers, PE, Newton, RA: Tae Kwon Do: An effective exercise for improving balance and walking ability in older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 62A (6): 641-646, 2007.

Rogers, HL, Cromwell, RL: Adaptive changes in gait in older and younger adults as responses to proprioceptive and visual challenges to dynamic balance. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 6(1): 85-96, 2008.

De Witt, JK, Cromwell, RL, Hagan, RD: The effect of increasing Inertia upon Vertical Ground Reaction Forces during Locomotion. Journal of Experimental Biology, 211: 1087-1092, 2008.

Buccello-Stout, R.R, Bloomberg, JJ, Cohen, HS, Whorton, EB, Weaver, GD, Cromwell, RL: Effects of sensorimotor adaptation training on functional mobility in older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences. 63(5):P295-300, 2008.

Newton, RA, Cromwell, RL, Rogers, HL: The relationship between physical performance and obesity in elderly African American women. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, 27(6):423-440, 2009.

What a list! Kinda makes me wonder what I've been doing with my time...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Scientist


And when I say "the scientist," I truly mean THE scientist. Honestly, it took months to nail down an interview with this extremely accomplished and busy woman; I am so pleased to say I finally got to "play reporter" with the head scientist of the NASA studies program: Dr. Ronita L. Cromwell.

Her credentials include both Bachelors and Masters degrees from University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – both with majors in Kinesiology and focus on motor control.

Dr. Ronita Cromwell
FAP Manager Joe Neigut, me, and Dr. Ronita Cromwell, Ph.D.

1. What's in the study plan for the rest of 2010 and 2011?
Dr. Cromwell: We're starting our vertical treadmill study. This study uses the eZLS to replace the daily loading stimulus to bones in an effort to mitigate bone loss that occurs during bed rest. We are also planning for our Functional Task Test (FTT), Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study (iRATS) and testosterone supplementation study. The FTT will examine the physiological responses to a battery of functional tasks that mimic critical mission tasks. iRATS will evaluate a new training program to protect against loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular function. The testosterone supplementation study will examine the ability of testosterone in combination with the iRATS exercise program to preserve and enhance muscle function.

2. What are some of the most common misconceptions you see in the press that you'd like to clear up? For instance, I for one am shocked that even after 3 interviews, a local news channel still called it a "Sleep Study" on the air!
That is one of the most common misconceptions. Because our subjects spend so much time in bed, the natural assumption is that they are sleeping. However, our subjects are awake between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm each day. They are only allowed 8 hours of sleep at night.

Another misconception is that our subjects get bored and do nothing while they are in the NASA facility. I think you can attest to the significant amount of scientific testing that goes on during our bed rest studies. We also ask that subjects have a goal to achieve when they come into our study. We have had some subjects who continue working if their job can be done on-line. Others have taken on-line courses, learned a new skill, studied a language, etc.

3. I was definitely never bored. In fact, I found the bottom of my email inbox for the first time since about 1994, it was awesome! As the senior research scientist, what is the biggest challenge in running these studies?
The biggest challenge to running these studies is the coordination of all the activities associated with these studies. A significant amount of planning goes into what is eventually carried out on the bed rest unit. Initially, the scientific content of studies must be compatible if we are going to run them as an integrated complement.

For example, the FTT, iRATS and testosterone supplementation studies fit very well together. Subjects who participate in the FTT study will serve as control subjects for iRATS and testosterone supplementation studies. Also, by integrating these studies, FTT testing will help to evaluate the iRATS training protocol. Once studies are integrated, there is a huge amount of preparation prior to admitting our first subject.

There are a number of approval processes that studies are subjected to at NASA that check for safety and readiness prior to implementation. Sometimes equipment must be purchased or built. And of course, subjects must be identified that qualify for the study. To support these activities the Flight Analogs Project (FAP) has a team skilled in all aspects of study planning and implementation.

4. You've been the project head for 3 years now; what has been the most satisfying thing about running these studies?
The support we provide to human research in the space program. Bed rest is an excellent analog for simulating the physiological changes associated with spaceflight in the bone, muscle and cardiovascular systems. By first doing studies in bed rest, we can determine whether or not a countermeasure may be useful for spaceflight. These ground studies can be accomplished more quickly and under greater scientific control.

5. What can you say about overall results? Are studies making a difference in our understanding of how to keep bodies healthy in long-term weightlessness?
One of the unique features of the NASA bed rest studies is the set of standard measures used for all of our studies. These measures comprise a multi-disciplinary assessment of each subject's physiological response. This allows us to examine all physiological systems for each study that is completed. For example, an investigator may be interested in an exercise countermeasure for preserving bone during bed rest.

This exercise countermeasure may also affect the muscle system, neurological system and cardiovascular system. The standard measures allow us to monitor these other systems and determine how they are affected by the countermeasure. Using the standard measures we have characterized the physiologic response to 6-degree head down tilt bed rest.

Results indicate significant loss of bone; 1-1.5% per month for bed rest depending on the area of the skeleton measured. Fluid shifts that produce cardiovascular changes demonstrate losses on average of 18% over the course of a bed rest study. This fluid loss affects subjects' orthostatic tolerance and reduces the ability of subjects to stand up without feeling light headed after bed rest. Muscle weakness is significant after bed rest and can affect posture and balance measures as well. These changes seen in bed rest are consistent with those observed in spaceflight. These results were published in a special supplement of the scientific journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine in 2009.

6. How many men and women have now completed micro-gravity studies?
A total of 61 subjects have now completed our head down tilt bed rest studies. Of these, 40 were male and 21 were female.

7. When I went through the program, the goal was 90 days in bed. I hear it went down to 60 days, then 30. What were the reasons for this?
The bed rest studies were originally designed as 60-day studies. However, one of the early investigator studies that examined bone changes required that subjects spend 90-days in bed. So, other studies being run at that same time were shifted to 90-days as these subjects could be used as control subjects for the bone study. We continued to take measures at bed rest day 60, however. Once the bone study was completed, we assessed the 60-day measures and felt comfortable returning to a 60-day bed rest platform.

The 30-day studies were designed based on requirements of the participating investigators. Studies integrated into the 30-day platform were primarily to develop or validate methodology and/or equipment. Therefore, a 30-day platform was adequate to obtain the needed data.

8. Is there anything else I haven't asked that you would like to clarify?
Definitely let your readers know that we are always recruiting. They can call 1-866-JSC-TESTor go to

Friday, October 8, 2010

Taking Up Space


Meanwhile, on the NASA Education beat, Marshall Space Flight Center writer Heather Smith has a new behind-the-scenes view for all of us space enthusiasts who cannot get enough of the goings-on inside the almighty still-18-billion-dollars-strong agency.

I just like mentioning that number occasionally, because lately, some people have taken "Shuttle Program Ending" to mean "The Sky Is Falling on Western Civilization." Not even close, sports fans. And, the final two (maybe three?) Shuttle launches will likely be the most heavily attended of the entire era.

So please participate in the astronaut discussions and events! Shuttle Discovery STS-133 will head to the International Space Station in November, and Heather's Taking Up Space group is hosting a Q&A with the newest shuttle crew in a live ISS downlink next month. Vote for questions, and then watch live on NASA Television!

Facebook Poll for Shuttle and ISS Astronauts
Heather is on an amazing team on the "education beat" who are always keeping us posted on great projects, such as students running experiments on weightless parabolic flights, the Clickable Space Suit, the Dream Rocket and even NASA's musical group, The Chromatics.

Their new Taking Up Space blog on the NASA Wiki, says Heather:

"...Will have stories about people just like you – and sometimes stories about people who used to be just like you: the engineers, scientists, astronauts and many others who work at NASA. Sometimes the stories will just be about cool things going on at NASA. Occasionally I may tell you about something going on at NASA that you may want to get involved in. And I hope as you read about some of the great things other students are doing at NASA, that you'll share some of your cool NASA experiences with me too!"

The TUS folks have also been reporting on the undersea NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations), Glenn Research Center's SLOPE (Simulated Lunar Operations), Space Cookies, and the much-anticipated Robonaut.

You can keep up with all Taking Up Space updates at the main blog or their @NASAblogTUS twitter feed!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Horizontal Exercise Fixture


More good news this week from the Human Test Subject Facility (HTSF) and the folks who function as screeners for the NASA studies. Not only will the new feasibility tests (described in the past two posts) be accepting new paid volunteers through 2010, another will rise to function in tandem with iRATS in 2011, and then a third study will be starting up in the spring! As soon as I find out the details about that one, I'll be happy to discuss them with any interested parties.

As for the usual questions, anyone can look at the screening process from my old website, the studies pay healthy participants $160 per day, and of course the folks at Johnson Space Center are always looking for non-smokers on no regular medications between the ages of 25 and 55.

HEF system principal components
(click to Embiggen!)

Today, I also got a glimpse of one of the newly engineered contraptions that will be used to test muscle strength in micro-gravity simulations. Check out the HEF, or the Horizontal Exercise Fixture.

This photo really cracks me up -- I have been staring at it for ages now, trying to figure out what parts move and how it might feel to exercise in weightlessness, always attempting to exert FORCE on the muscles where none would naturally exist in the space station! There are obviously some sliding parts for leg work, arm holds and of course, abdominal moves from a supine position.

Hopefully, once the studies get underway, I'll be able to feature some video footage of some brave soul testing the feasibility of these new inventions... and bring us closer to what kinds of counter-measures on the ISS will help to keep astronauts more healthy on long-duration expeditions.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Colbert Treadmill in Action


Astronauts exercise on the ISS treadmill to keep their muscles and bones healthy; on the ground, "flight analog" testers use similar equipment so medical scientists can measure cardiovascular fitness. How do they simulate weightlessness? By going vertical! Check out the camera angle, LOL!

This is probably the best video I have ever seen in terms of a side-by-side comparison of how the treadmill in space works, and how they gear equipment on the ground to simulate weightlessness.

If you would like to see a more in-depth view of the study, the NASA Edge guys interviewed the "guru for exercise counter-measures" at NASA Glenn, home of one of the many eZLS contraptions, or the Enhanced Zero-Gravity Locomotion Simulator... the one in Texas is identical, but with "floating" capability.

Co-host Blair Allen is a huge goofball, but highly entertaining... and he volunteered to don the space station harness and try out the eZLS treadmill... so if you are interested in participating in this study, you can watch him undergo all the protocols.

Their show also featured more updated footage on the ISS, Peggy Whitson during training, and a description of what "weightless jogging" feels like around the 5:30 and 6:40 marks. Great stuff!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

New NASA Study!


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).

Flight Analog Research Unit - NASA Facility, Galveston
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.

eZLS Treadmill
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!