It goes without saying that life aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is very different from life on Earth. Weightlessness is one of the primary reasons why this is the case. And though floating from place to place may seem like fun, it comes with its own set of challenges that can demand a lot of astronauts.
Being weightless day after day on the ISS means that you can lose up to 15 percent of your body’s muscle mass—a loss which doesn’t completely return when you set foot back on solid ground. It’s something that astronaut and biochemist Peggy Whitson worked hard to avoid during her time aboard the station. As she made a demanding, two-hour exercise regimen part of her daily routine, she would be the first person to tell you that being weightless doesn’t mean you can skip the gym.
Floating from one area to the next, especially when you’re traveling more than half a football field, is more demanding than it seems. For the most part, astronauts navigate using their hands and arms, essentially using the upper body as much as we use our lower limbs on Earth. This is even more demanding when astronauts must venture outside the ISS for spacewalks, which also requires a cumbersome suit—which would be very weighty were it worn in normal gravity. Spacesuits are also pressurized, which puts considerable strain on the body and requires extra upper-body and forearm strength for basic dexterity.
Astronauts train extensively for these physical requirements before they leave Earth, but they have to work hard to maintain their abilities even when they are far from its surface. That requires exceptional exercise resources on the ISS.
Conventional workouts that leverage the weight of the body aren’t as effective in a zero-gravity requirement. This is why you’ll find specialized exercise machines that introduce resistance and keep astronauts from floating away as they exert and resist force. While the equipment is highly specialized, the techniques aren’t all that different and include deadlifts, benchpresses, and planks. In addition to a unique weight resistance machine, known as the Advanced Resistance Exercise Device or ARED, astronauts can also use a specialized treadmill and exercise bike to help maintain muscle and bone health.
But how do you utilize these vital resources without disturbing vital surrounding equipment, delicate experiments, and your fellow astronauts? A built-in vibration isolation system, that relies on parts similar to those from Isolation Technology, helps to ensure astronauts can get a rigorous workout without compromising their surroundings.
For all aspiring astronauts who are working on their science and math skills, it’s important to remember that you’ll need a remarkably strong body in addition to an exceptional brain to deal with the rigors of space.