Space Cycle Prevents Astronauts from Muscle Loss

Cycling into anti-atrophy spheres
© UC Irvine

Space Cycle is an artificial gravity exercise gym that enables the rider to perform resistance-training exercises without the use of weights. To achieve the desired amount of force, the rider on the left powers the cycle while the rider on the right performs squats.

Through a study at the University of California, Irvine, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is exploring the concept of a Space Cycle for inflight resistance-training exercise.

“Even with onboard exercise, astronauts face the risk of losing muscle mass and function because their muscles are not bearing enough weight, or load,” said Dr. Vincent J. Caiozzo, investigator on NSBRI’s Muscle Alterations and Atrophy Team. “For exploration, it is important to find ways to increase load-bearing activity so astronauts can maintain strength.”

Caiozzo’s team is researching whether squats executed under artificial gravity conditions greater than or equal to Earth gravity (1g) produce the same kind of muscle responses that occur when a person performs weight training on Earth.

Participants ride opposite one another – one on a bike and one on a platform. As one person pedals, the cycle moves in a circular motion around a centralized pole. The motion generates pressure on the rider, forcing him against the seat in a manner similar to the effect of gravity on Earth. On the platform, the other person performs squat exercises. Instruments on the device report the separate work rates of the participants.

Caiozzo’s team is determining the Space Cycle’s effectiveness by comparing the participants’ pre- and post-study muscle mass and strength, muscle fiber cross-sections from biopsies, and various cellular and molecular markers of growth.

“The novelty of artificial gravity resistance training is that each element of the body is loaded proportionally. Leg muscles can be made to work against high loads without the need for external weights, which is important in light of the limited mass and space available on missions,” said Caiozzo.; Source: National Space Biomedical Research Institute