For astronauts, maintaining their exercise habits is a must when on a space mission, given that space's lack of gravity starts damaging the body's muscles.

Space, the final frontier of humankind, remains a tricky and dangerous place even after many men have already gone before. It’s also a very demanding environment. And when NASA starts sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, they ought to reach the Red Planet in top physical form.

The slow, but progressive, degenerative effects that a weightless ambient can have on your body are the sort of things your favorite space movies don’t put too much focus on. Because let’s admit it, one prefers to see Ripley shooting Aliens than working out in the Nostromo.

NASA scientists and engineers have made their objective to keep astronauts healthy and fit all the way to Mars and back by creating the Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo (ROCKY) exercise device.

ROCKY goes to Mars

Astronauts will exercise in Orion with the ROCKY beginning on Exploration Mission-2, the first mission of the spacecraft with the crew to Mars.

During their journey to Earth’s twin planet, astronauts will need to work out two hours per day to prevent their muscles from getting weaker due to the absence of gravity. But that’s in the long term, as Orion’s early missions will only last weeks.

However, for those short missions, the ROCKY will help the astronauts stay healthy enough to get out of the crew module on their own after splashdown.

All-in-one device

The ROCKY is an “ultra-compact, lightweight device” that offer the same benefits as the regular exercise equipment that we know or use. The size of a large shoebox, it weighs approximately 20 pounds and takes up about one cubic foot of room.

It will take the place of the treadmill, resistive exercise device and the cycle ergometer in the Orion spacecraft. In comparison, those three devices together weigh more than 4,000 pounds and occupy about 850 cubic feet within the space station.

The device can be used as a rowing machine for aerobic activity and strength training with loads of up to 400 pounds to perform exercises such as squats, deadlifts and heel raise, as well as upper body exercises like bicep curls and upright rows. It can also be customized with specific workouts for individual astronauts.

The ROCKY is almost an all-in-one gym and personal trainer.

Room for improvement

However, NASA’s Human Research Program will continue to refine the ROCKY, as the device is most likely to become a permanent feature aboard the Orion, the capsule that will be used in future long-term missions.

The team behind the coming tune-ups will include engineers and scientists from Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The first step will be to find ways to enhance its capabilities even further while keeping weight and dimensions to a minimum. They will also incorporate the best features of the Device for Aerobic and Resistive Training (DART), a second device evaluated during the selection process.

If everything goes as planned, the ROCKY could even be enlisted into the International Space Station‘s state-of-the-art collection of workout machines.

Source: NASA