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WOODWAY NEWS - Treadmill on International Space Station

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May 21, 2010 QinetiQ Space team and astronaut Frank de Winne are testing a new fitness device for ESA and NASA during parabolic flights

Last week, a team of engineers of the Flemish space company QinetiQ Space (formerly known as Verhaert Space) have successfully tested a new fitness device for astronauts in zero gravity, on board of the Airbus ZERO G, stationed in Bordeaux (France).

The ZERO G is a specially equipped passenger aircraft (based on an Airbus A300) that performs a series of special parabolic flights, creating zero gravity for short consecutive periods of 22 seconds. The team made 31 parabolic flights per day and the tests lasted a whole week. This way the QinetiQ Space engineers had the chance to test their device in an environment comparable to the one on board of the International Space Station (ISS). The Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne, who stayed on board of the ISS for 6 months last year, was a member of the QinetiQ Space team.

Zero G Plane

“We develop this device for ESA and NASA (respectively the European and the American Space Agency)”, says engineer Luc Vautmans, Project Office Manager at QinetiQ Space. It is the intention to allow the astronauts to run on a treadmill in space (in weightlessness) without floating through the cabin after taking 1 step. Until now this was realized with elastic bungees, fastened at the height of the hips, that held the astronaut and pulled him down during the running.

Weightless Testing

Astronauts train a lot and very intense during their stay on board of the International Space Station (ISS) because the negative effects of weightlessness are very pernicious for their muscles and bones and because of course they have to keep their body healthy in view of their return to earth. However, according to the astronauts it is not very comfortable to run on a treadmill while you are being pulled down with stiff rubbers. This week we have proven, on board of the A300 zero G in weightlessness, that we can safely and carefully pull down astronauts of different sizes with their own weight, independent of their running movements
and displacements.

Because of this they will be able to run in weightlessness condition on board of the International Space Station as if they are running on earth with normal gravity. Upon request of NASA our team is working around the clock to get this new system before the end of this year on board of one of the last Space Shuttles to the ISS so that they can enjoy this new Belgian technology.