Scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, with the help of folks from the Cleveland Clinic, built an odd looking treadmill, dubbed Standalone Zero Gravity Locomotion Simulator (sZLS), designed to resemble the lack of gravity when running on a treadmill in space.
Living in weightlessness can lead to aerobic deconditioning, muscle atrophy and bone loss, all of which can affect an astronaut’s ability to perform physical tasks. On the International Space Station, crew members exercise daily to help counter the effects of prolonged weightlessness.
The treadmill simulates zero gravity by suspending human test subjects horizontally to remove the torso, head and limbs from the normal pull of gravity. Participants are pulled toward a vertically-mounted treadmill system where they can run or walk. The forces against a test subject’s feet are precisely controlled and can mimic conditions of zero gravity in low Earth orbit or conditions on the moon, which has one-sixth the gravity of Earth. In addition to simulating exercise protocols, the device may be used to imitate the physiological effects of spacewalking.
Cleveland Clinic in Ohio collaborated closely with NASA in the development of the treadmill and currently is conducting bed rest studies with a similar device to understand how exercise during simulated spaceflight affects the muscles and bones.