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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Keeping fit in space

Williams on the treadmill
(NASA Photo)


Astronaut Sunita Williams is no stranger to long-distance running.(She finished the 2006 Houston Marathon in 3 hours, 29 minutes.) But even for the veteran athlete, jogging in zero gravity is tricky at best.

Aboard the International Space Station, the Needham native is participating in an experimental fitness program designed to reduce the loss of bone and muscle mass in space travelers. She will lift weights, run and cycle for at least two hours a day.

“Lots of folks ask about the treadmill because it is hard to imagine how one can run in space without gravity,” Williams wrote in an email to friends and family. “We are strapped down to the treadmill using a harness and bungees.”

Williams said that the treadmill and exercise bike are both fitted with a “vibration isolation system” that keeps vibration from the exercises from affecting various systems on the space station.

The space station “can’t really take that stomping around,” she wrote.

Williams is literally working out from head to toe. She will go shoeless for most of her stay on the orbiting laboratory. She will use her feet to grasp objects so the muscles don’t atrophy while she’s floating for the next sixth months, according to her former sixth grade teacher Angela DiNapoli, who has been communicating with the astronaut through email and cell phone.

Williams wrote, “I have spent the last two weeks just getting used to living here and understanding how everything works. I finally feel settled. Amazing how ALL the muscles can adapt! So, I am ready to start working out seriously. In fact, it is really necessary to make sure that we are in tip top shape for our [spacewalks] coming up in February! That will be the true test of how well we have been doing up here.”

Williams is scheduled for spacewalks on February 2, 6, 10, and 19.

-- Lauren K. Meade

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