For astronauts flying in space, especially for long periods, the lost of muscular strength and bone mass, among other problems, caused by prolonged exposure to micro gravity has been a concern to researchers. Astronauts on the International Space Station must spend hours each day exercising to stave off the effects of micro gravity and, after their six month tours, still must spend time recovering from those effects
With the prospect of long expeditions to the Moon and Mars, researchers at the University of California at Irving and the National Space Biomedical Institute have developed the ultimate in exercise technology. It’s called the Space Cycle and, following the tendency of technology developed for space flight to have Earthly spin offs, in might be coming to a gym near you.
A Space Cycle resembles nothing else but a two person merry go round. A spinning wheel sits on top of a pole. On one side of the wheel hangs a recumbent bicycle. On the other side hangs a cage large enough to contain a single person. One person rides the bicycle while another rides in the cage.
The way the Space Cycle works is that the person on the bicycle pedals, causing the merry go round wheel to spin, rotating both the bicycle and cage. The whole contraption spins faster and faster, causing both participants to experience artificial gravity while getting in a good, high impact exercise regime. Researchers have been able to demonstrate as much as seven times the amount of Earths gravity while on the device. The effect is like hanging a set of bar bells on every molecule of a human body while doing strenuous exercise.
While the participant on the bicycle pedals, getting a good, lower body exercise session, the participant in the cage can do squat exercises. Squats is an exercise where a person stands upright with a load on their shoulders, lowers themselves to a crouch, and stands back up, strengthening the calf, thigh, and back muscles, which are also the muscles where up to 25 percent loss occurs in micro gravity.
Researchers do not want to stop there. They envision a bar across the top of the cage from which a participant can exercise by doing pull ups. Others suggest installing a tread mill in the cage, allowing the participant to do running exercises, just as if they were on Earth.
The bicyclist gets a good lower body work out as well. If he needs to work the upper body, a hand pedal attachment can be used for that kind of exercise.
Using the Space Cycle to simulate Earth or greater gravity, astronauts could potentially spend less time exercising and more time doing other work while on a space mission. Researchers are currently testing the Space Cycle on participants in bed rest studies, which simulate the long term effects of micro gravity. Things like bone mass and muscle function are measured before and after an exercise program on the Space Cycle.
The current model is made of steel and is about twelve feet in diameter. A version made of much lighter carbon composite material may eventually fly on board the International Space Station and may be used for long distance voyages to Mars.
The use of the Space Cycle in an Earth bound gym might be a good way for someone seeking a good, high impact exercise regime. Being able to do exercise routines in greater than Earth normal gravity would be a good way to cut down on the time necessary to remain fit.