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NASA Studies Benefits of Exercise for Astronauts and Public

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The 20-G Centrifuge facility at NASA Ames has a radius of 29 feet and is human-rated to 12.5 G. (NASA)
NASA's Ames Research Center in California has teamed with the University of Kentucky in Lexington and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, to study ways to reduce adverse effects of space travel on an astronaut’s health. The study is being done on the 20-G Centrifuge at Ames, a machine that creates artificial gravity forces by spinning, and that can simulate up to 20 times the normal forces of gravity experienced on Earth.

“The 20-G Centrifuge is our largest facility certified for use by humans,” said Jeff Smith, a manager in the Life Sciences Division at Ames. “Its capabilities make it a unique NASA resource and a very versatile research tool that is ideal for developing health-maintenance activities for astronauts.”

Research conducted using the 20-G centrifuge helps scientists understand how astronauts cope with long-term exposure to the low gravity of space or other planets and readjust to Earth’s gravity when they return home. The team will study the effects of exercise and artificial gravity on cardiovascular responses and fluid shifts within the body. The research is expected to help determine what combinations of exercise and exposure to increased gravity effectively counter the changes that occur during space travel.

“While in space, astronauts experience heart and blood vessel changes, decreased bone strength, loss of muscle mass, and shifts in fluids within their bodies,” said Fritz Moore, Ames’ exercise physiologist and study scientist. “This does not immediately harm the astronauts, but it may complicate longer space travel and make the return to Earth difficult.”

Helping astronauts counter the changes to their bodies also may further the development of health benefits for the general public. “The knowledge we gain here helps us understand everyday health issues such as high or low blood pressure,” Moore said. “The changes that astronauts experience are very similar to those seen in people who are less active or frequently confined to bed rest, such as individuals in our rapidly growing senior population. It is very likely that space medicine and geriatric medicine will interact and help us understand the best ways to arrive home from space, as well as the best ways to grow old.”

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2006/apr/HQ_06187_exercise.html .