Running in Circles: The Unconventional Solution to Combating Muscle Wasting in Lunar Gravity


Scientists Propose Lunar "Wall of Death" to Keep Astronauts Fit on the Moon

As humanity prepares for its triumphant return to the moon after more than 50 years, researchers have devised an unconventional approach to keeping astronauts in peak physical condition while exploring the lunar surface. Their solution? Running around a "lunar Wall of Death."

In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, a team of scientists, led by Alberto Minetti, professor of physiology at the University of Milan, propose that astronauts combat the effects of low gravity on their bones and muscles by running several times a day around a circular structure, similar to the giant wooden cylinders used by motorcycle stunt performers in their gravity-defying acts.

The hostile lunar environment presents numerous challenges for long-term missions, including the need to combat the effects of reduced gravity on the human body. Without the normal force of gravity to work against, astronauts can experience significant bone and muscle loss, as well as a decline in the fine nervous system control required for coordinated movements.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted experiments using a rented Wall of Death, a 36m-high telescopic crane, and bungee cords to simulate lunar gravity. The results showed that running at speeds of more than 8mph for a couple of minutes at the start and end of each day could generate enough lateral force, or "artificial gravity," to maintain bone and muscle strength and preserve good nervous system control.

While the idea of transporting an actual Wall of Death to the moon may seem far-fetched, the researchers suggest that astronauts could be housed in circular habitats, allowing them to run around the walls of their off-world homes.

Maria Stokes, professor of neuromusculoskeletal rehabilitation at the University of Southampton, acknowledges the potential benefits of the lunar running cylinder but emphasizes the need for specific training to maintain everyday living and work skills to ensure astronauts operate safely on the lunar surface.

Other experts, such as Nick Caplan, professor of aerospace medicine and rehabilitation at Northumbria University, Newcastle, question the feasibility of accommodating such running tracks in early lunar habitats. Caplan and his colleagues are exploring alternative approaches to exercise in space and on the moon, including the use of inflatable cuffs to compress limbs and restrict blood flow, which has been shown to provide similar muscle, bone, and cardiorespiratory benefits at lower exercise intensities and durations.

As space agencies like NASA gear up for long-term missions and permanent habitats on the moon, finding effective countermeasures to combat the effects of reduced gravity on the human body will be crucial. While the idea of a lunar "Wall of Death" may seem unconventional, it highlights the innovative thinking necessary to overcome the challenges of living and working in the hostile environment of space.