How will astronauts keep in shape for extended periods?

May 30, 2015

By Science Daily

Run far or run fast? That is one of the questions NASA is trying to answer with one of its latest studies — and the answers may help keep us in shape on Earth, as well as in space. Even with regular exercise, astronauts who spend an extended period of time in space experience muscle weakening, bone loss, and decreased cardiovascular conditioning. This is because they no longer have to work against gravity in everyday living.

NASA’s Human Research Program Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training study, known as iRAT, completed recently to evaluate the use of high intensity exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function on the International Space Station. To stay healthy in space, astronauts are scheduled to exercise for two and a half hours per day for six days per week. Most, however, exercise seven days per week. They perform both cardio and resistance exercises to keep their muscles and bones strong.

“The theory was that a more stringent regimen of resistance training and interval aerobic exercise would help the astronauts stay fit while on the space station,” Dr. Lori Ploutz-Snyder, principle investigator said. “This is of particular importance to future crews who travel to Mars.”


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8 comments on “How will astronauts keep in shape for extended periods?

  • 2
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @Alan4

    For long term space travel radiation shielding and artificial gravity will be needed.

    I agree. No amount of exercising can make up the absence of gravity for extended periods of time when it comes to bone loss and muscle atrophy, it’s an uphill battle in which the hill gets steeper every day.

    The radiation problem is even more acute as this means that just 16 months of space travel, a back and forth trip to Mars, with no protection from cosmic rays means sure-fire contamination and the onset of cancer: a slow, excruciatingly painful death. And if astronauts get sick in transit, this spells disaster.

    Better propulsion for faster travel is also a must if we want to send people to Mars and back. As you pointed out in earlier posts, technologies like plasma propulsion look promising. A small nuclear reactor could supply the power required but there are still many technical hurdles ahead.

    One thing I have thought of is robotics. What if in the next 20 to 50 years or so, robotics improve to the point where we can build androids as compact and energy efficient as a human body but without any of its limitations and vulnerabilities. The androids would be piloted by operators (the next generation of astronauts) just like drones.

    No need to shield the spaceship against radiation or create artificial gravity. No need for constant exercising, no need to carry food, water or breathing oxygen aboard. No management of human waste, no neep for sleep or rest. EVA’s could be performed without the need of spacesuits or perhaps just very basic ones.

    Wouldn’t that make much more sense than placing human lives at risk in extremely hostile and isolated environments to explore the universe?



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  • 3
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    The androids would be piloted by operators (the next generation of astronauts) just like drones.

    Opps… just realized the flaw of my reasoning. The distances and the delays caused by the propagation speed of radio waves to travel back and forth between pilot and android make this solution impractical.

    But perhaps if we someday build androids with good enough AI, this might solve the problem wouldn’t it? They could perform the vast majority of tasks autonomously and report back to mission control at pre-designated intervals or “call home” for instructions when they are faced with a problem they can’t solve on their own.



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  • NearlyNakedApe
    May 31, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Better propulsion for faster travel is also a must if we want to send people to Mars and back. As you pointed out in earlier posts, technologies like plasma propulsion look promising. A small nuclear reactor could supply the power required but there are still many technical hurdles ahead.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/01/manned-mission-to-mars-by-2030s-is-really-possible-experts-say/#li-comment-111877



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  • I like the idea of AI roaming the solar system. However, it seems it’s difficult to create programs capable of operating in the real world, where the variables of a problem may be only partially specified or attainable e.g. limits of sensors.

    The rover Curiosity seems to have proven itself an excellent alternative to the still unattainable (AI gurus feel free to correct that) autonomous bot.

    Maybe the next rover can take with it an experimental “baby bot” capable of evolving its programming in response to situations, and sending back snapshots of its current “understanding” i.e. its code. The public would probably even love and root for baby bot. 🙂



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  • 8
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Thanks for the link Alan. I didn’t realize this topic had been discussed at length in an earlier thread. Must have been a hectic week back then and I missed it completly. I corrected that just now. Quite an interesting and fruitful exchange on the manned/unmanned space exploration debate.



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