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K-State News
Kansas State University
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Source: Thomas Barstow, 785-532-0712, tbarsto@k-state.edu
News tip/hometown interest: Salina and Topeka.
Photos available: Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/sept11/9-12NASA1.jpg and http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/sept11/9-12NASA2.jpg
Cutlines: 1. Carissa Rogers, senior in kinesiology and pre-dentistry, Fredonia, runs down a set of stairs as part of a research obstacle course that simulates lunar tasks. 2. Samuel Wilcox, graduate student in kinesiology, De Soto, transports weighted cylinders in a wheelbarrow as part of a research obstacle course that simulates lunar tasks.
Video available:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWdKigRJaiA
News release prepared by: Jennifer Tidball, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011


MANHATTAN -- Some participants in a research project at Kansas State University look like they're exercising on another planet. In a way, they are.

The participants go through an obstacle course that simulates lunar tasks that astronauts perform in outer space. It's all part of a K-State exercise physiology research project being supported by a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The K-State team has been given a research mission: develop a way to measure astronauts' physical capacities and keep them safe in space, whether they be stationed on the International Space Station or traveling on a potential NASA mission to Mars. Space travel in microgravity environments weakens astronauts' muscles, bone strength and cardiovascular systems, making it more difficult to perform simple physical tasks, such as climbing ladders, collecting rock samples or even walking.

"The question is what is the minimum level of conditioning that the astronaut needs to maintain so that when they get to their destination, they are going to be safe," said Thomas Barstow, K-State professor of kinesiology and the principal investigator of the project. "That they're going to be strong enough to be able to perform a variety of tasks that they are going to have to do."

Other researchers on the team include Steven Warren, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dale Schinstock, associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering; Russell Taylor, an engineer in the Electronics Design Laboratory; Carl Ade, a doctoral student in anatomy and physiology, Salina; Ryan Broxterman, doctoral student in physiology, Topeka; and numerous undergraduate researchers.

The project is divided into three segments:

* Using an obstacle course of lunar tasks, the researchers are developing a set of tests that can evaluate the general fitness of an astronaut.

* The electrical engineering researchers are developing a set of sensors that can be placed on the body and measure muscle metabolism and activity while a person is performing the obstacle course in clothes or a space suit.

* The mechanical engineering researchers will develop a support system that suspends participants like a marionette to simulate microgravity environments.

The researchers worked with NASA to design four different obstacle courses that simulate various lunar tasks, such as climbing ladders, traversing a rock wall, turning knobs and transporting materials with a wheelbarrow.

"We looked at pictures and videos from the original Apollo missions to see what the astronauts were doing and if they ever made comments about what was difficult and what was easy," Ade said.

The researchers have worked with 30 participants in the obstacle course. They hope to gather data from more than 100 participants, split evenly between males and females.

One year into the project, the team is excited about the results they've gotten so far. They have discovered that by having the participant run on a treadmill at different speeds and timing how long it takes them to fatigue, they can fairly accurately predict that person's time in the obstacle course.

"What's especially interesting to us is that the obstacle course represents variety of physical tasks -- it's not just running for a period of time," Barstow said. "And yet, with all those different varieties of physical movements and tasks, a person's characterization of their fatigue with a treadmill run gives us the best ability to predict what their time is going to be during these tests."

More than that, Broxterman's master's thesis research found that a three-minute all-out running test could also predict a person's physical ability just as accurately.

"With the research we have done, we have actually shown that measurements that come out of this test are very strong predictors of performance on most of our field tests," Broxterman said. "If we can utilize one treadmill test instead of multiple testing sessions, that would be beneficial for us and eventually for NASA."

Although NASA recently ended its Space Shuttle program, the K-State research still provides basic information that NASA wants to know in order to improve astronaut safety for future endeavors.

"This kind of information is fundamental to NASA," Barstow said. "The kind of information we can gather here in our lab is going to be critical to NASA as long as humans are exploring space."

The K-State researchers also see universal applications for their findings. The data provides a model for evaluating occupational physiological requirements, and obstacle course tasks are similar to those performed by firefighters or police officers. The fitness tests could also be used for athletes and patient populations.

The research team still has two years left in the NASA-funded project and is looking for people to participate in the obstacle course. If interested, contact Barstow at tbarsto@k-state.edu or Carl Ade at cade@k-state.edu. Find out more at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/aug10/nasa82310.html.

Read more about the obstacle course at K-State's news blog: http://kstatenews.org/?p=5933