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How has NASA improved athletic training? – Part 1

All astronauts of NASA face space weightlessness. In a gravity-free environment, the long-term effect of prolonged time spent is that it weakens the body. Space flights atrophy the muscles and decrease the density of the bones. NASA has athletic trainers and physical rehabilitation technicians on staff to get astronauts into shape for space flights to prevent that, or at least limit the damage. Trainers also teach astronauts how to keep their bodies in perfect shape during the flight and then work with them to restore their physical condition after returning to Earth. 

The Exercise Shuttle

The agency hired Boeing engineer Gary Graham before launching NASA’s Skylab space station in 1973 to design a cardiovascular exercise machine to keep the heart in shape and optimize blood flow. It should also be possible for astronauts to use it in space. Ultimately, Graham and his NASA team produced an astronaut exercise machine called the CMC Shuttle 2000.

Astronauts are lying on their backs on a carriage gliding on a rail to use the CMC Shuttle. They then push their feet off a kick plate and pull themselves while holding on to adjustable, resistant elastic cords. The machine moves the diaphragm of the user with each repetition and exercises the chest cavity, attracting blood to the heart and helping to maintain heart health and blood flow overall.

Astronauts used the CMC shuttle from 1973 to 1974 on the 84-day Skylab mission. Further refinements were made to the design based on the astronauts ‘ heart, muscle and blood flow observations that used it in-flight. In 1991, a company called Contemporary Design licensed Graham and NASA technology and produced a piece of equipment commercially available called the Shuttle 2000-1. It is one of the few machines to be used by patients on bed rest, primarily found in diagnostic and rehabilitation environments. The Shuttle 2000-1 not only keeps the hearts of these patients healthy and their blood flowing properly, but also prevents atrophy of rarely used bones and muscles.

The Shuttle 2000-1 is also used by high-level athletes. The machine exercises-called plyometrics-provide strong, rapid muscle contractions. These exercises treat muscles like loaded, coiled springs which, when released, provide huge bursts of speed and power. Thus, whether it is necessary to rehabilitate, maintain or take the body to the next physical level, a machine developed for astronauts by NASA makes this possible.

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