Astronauts on the ISS recently had a NASA-sponsored Google Hangout with US Olympic athletes to remind the People of Earth that, sure, being a world-class athlete back on terra firma is fine, but have you tried working out in space?
Astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio hosted the discussion from their gym on the ISS, where they spoke to Curt Tomasevicz and other members of the US Olympic Bobsledding Team about what it takes to get cheese-grater abs and Apollo Anton Ohno-calves in space. (Or just to maintain the minimum level of fitness needed to keep them healthy.)
In order to prevent losing bone density and muscle mass, Hopkins and Mastracchio must work out two hours a day on a treadmill, exercise bike, and Advanced Resistance Exercise Device specially designed for use in microgravity. In spite of that extensive space regimen, as well as personal training given to them back on Earth, the astronauts said the unique conditions of living in space are still limiting their ability to pump, run, and lift like other Earthlings.
Hopkins says, “within two weeks of launching and being up in space, my fitness level — as they [Mission Controllers] defined it — had dropped 15 percent. From that point on, it’s just a battle to get yourself back to that shape that you were in before you launched.”
Olympic athletes and astronauts weren’t the only overacheivers in on the Hangout. CrossFit Games Champion Rich Froning Jr., and Houston Texans professional football player Jared Crick — two people who, might be fit, but not space fit — also weighed in on what Hopkins describes as “one of the most important” parts of living on the ISS.
It might be jarring to hear how much emphasis Hopkins and Mastracchio have to put on physical fitness, since we kind of thought the science and maintenance that Hopkins also describes would be a bigger focus. But the Hangout is a great reminder that part of the role of astronauts on the ISS is to show us how our own bodies might be impacted by life in microgravity.
Not only is the Hangout an interesting reminder that astronauts are essentially just guinea pigs who need to work out like crazy people in order to be healthy back on Earth when their job is done, it also felt to me like one of the few Sochi-related events so far that hasn’t made me dread the games as an Orwellian Sideshow. As Hopkins and Mastracchio say during the Hangout, the Olympics and the ISS are both beautiful symbols of international cooperation (and difficult bathroom situations.) Hopefully Sochi will be as much a success story as the ISS.
And hey, even th0ugh it’s nothing like getting shredded in space, the astronauts are still stoked for the Games and proud of our athletes — they even have pictures of Tomasevicz and other team members hanging on their walls.
The astronauts will be able to watch the Sochi games on a time delay, and possibly catch some of events live on weekends. “We’ll certainly be watching bobsledding.” Hopkins promised.
That’s a good idea, since they could probably use a reminder of how gravity works.
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