Space travel wreaks havoc upon the body. Due to long-term weightlessness, muscles atrophy and bones lose density, resulting in osteopenia. However, if we’re serious about making longer manned spaceflights, we need to figure out how to cope with these space-specific conditions. NASA recently began studies that looked at similar effects of bed-ridden people here on Earth and how exercise can combat related bone and muscle loss.
In space, on the International Space Station, astronauts do load-bearing exercises regularly on a machine called the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), which uses vacuum cylinders, instead of weights to provide resistance. Now, NASA has sent a measuring device, in the form of a shoe, to determine how well this machine is working and its effects on the astronauts using it.
The ForceShoe resembles a pair of high-tech Birkenstocks. Although it’s been used on Earth to measure the effects of load-bearing on people, using it in space means we get more accurate and useful data. Several ISS astronauts will wear the shoes when exercising on the ARED, which will be set for specific loads. To make sure the shoe is working properly, the astronaut will lift the ARED’s bar and then allow the shoe time to collect data, repeating this movement several times.
Once NASA knows the shoes are working correctly, astronauts will go through a series of general weight-bearing exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bicep curls, still while wearing the shoes. The shoes will measure and collect data during each exercise and then submit that to a computer on the ISS. From there, the data will come back to Earth for further study in a few days.
This data is valuable because we’ll need to know what kind of exercises we’ll have to do once we start heading to Mars and other planets. Astronauts on such exploration missions will need very specific training and strengthening programs to maintain bone and muscle mass, but they’ll also need strength to move on planets’ surfaces after spending a long time in microgravity.
However, the data collected by the ForceShoe can also be applied here on Earth, specifically to help those people with restricted movement due to injury, aging or other conditions.