A Moment of Science

Rowing in Space

NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon for long missions. How are the astronauts going to stay in shape in zero or low gravity?

Competing rowing teams

Photo: Stock Exchange

Experts are developing rowing exercise programs for astronauts because of its efficiency at working out so many muscles simultaneously

NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon for long missions. How are the astronauts going to stay in shape in zero or low gravity?

On earth, the pulling force of gravity makes our muscles work to do things like lift weights or just walk around. Without gravity or in very low gravity, though, there’s not much work for muscles to do, so they shrink. And because the heart doesn’t have to work very hard to pump blood from the lower parts of the body to the brain, it shrinks, too. That’s why astronauts are often really weak when they return from several weeks or months in space. Now, there are ways for astronauts to exercise in space—like jogging by using bungee cords to hold them down on a treadmill. But treadmills are bulky and heavy, which is not good for long missions.

So experts working on new exercise programs for astronauts have found that the best exercise is rowing. The pull-back motion of rowing is unique because it very efficiently exercises so many muscles at once. Researchers have found that rowers have the largest hearts, the densest bones, and the biggest muscles. And rowing machines can be very compact, which is crucial for tight conditions on a space ship or space station. Thirty to forty minutes of rowing per day, and astronauts on the moon will be able to keep their hearts strong, and bones and muscles at full strength.

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