NASA’s vertical treadmill lets astronauts run up a wall

Ever wanted to run up a wall? Well a new NASA treadmill that lets astronauts run while suspended horizontally lets them do just that as they prepare for long-duration space missions.

A team of engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland built the Standalone Zero Gravity Locomotion Simulator to imitate conditions astronauts experience while exercising in space. Exercise in microgravity helps lessen the harmful health effects of long-duration space travel, promoting astronauts' well-being and mission success, the group said in a release.

Living in weightlessness can lead to aerobic deconditioning, muscle atrophy and bone loss, all of which can affect an astronaut's ability to perform physical tasks. With NASA sending astronauts on six month missions to the International Space Station and plans to launch humans on missions to the moon by 2020, such conditioning is a necessity, the group said.

The treadmill simulates zero gravity by suspending the runner horizontally to eliminate the torso, head and limbs from the normal pull of gravity, the agency said in a release. Participants are pulled toward a vertically-mounted treadmill system where they can run or walk. The forces against a test subject's feet are precisely controlled and can mimic conditions of zero gravity in low Earth orbit or conditions on the moon, which has one-sixth the gravity of Earth. In addition to simulating exercise protocols, the device may be used to imitate the physiological effects of spacewalking.

Cleveland Clinic in Ohio collaborated closely with NASA in the development of the treadmill and currently is conducting bed rest studies with a similar device to understand how exercise during simulated spaceflight affects the muscles and bones, NASA said.

The treadmill joins other NASA ongoing research projects such as the inflatable habitat it has in Antarctica to see how it stands up during a year of use in an extremely harsh environment. An inflatable habitat is one of several concepts being considered for astronaut housing on the moon.

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