Michael Gernhardt, head of NASA's Extravehicular Activity, Physiology, Systems and Performance Project, and scientist John De Witt from the Texas-based Wyle's Science, Technology and Engineering Group are working on a project to design a modern space suit that permits freer movement.

"However, the only way to test the effects of true lunar gravity on our movements while based on earth is to hop aboard NASA's adapted DC-9 aircraft - which reduces the gravity on board by performing swooping parabolic flights - and get running," Gernhardt explained.

To make this discovery, De Witt and colleagues recruited three astronauts and five other registered test subjects who could tolerate the discomfort of the aircraft's bucking flight to test their running. Once the subjects were airborne, the gravity on-board fell to one-sixth of that on Earth. They tested the runner's walking and running styles on a treadmill as the volunteers shifted over a range of speeds from 0.67 to 2 m/s.

The experiments ran smoothly once the team had settled into a routine after the first few parabolas. Back on the ground, De Witt and colleagues analysed the speed at which the walkers gently transitioned into a run."Our findings show that astronauts will remain walking at higher speeds on the moon than had been previously thought," the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


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