NASA turns to Rocky to keep astronauts fit in deep space


Let’s just say right up front that no, Sylvester Stallone will not be a permanent fixture on future space missions, nor will his silver screen boxing persona be making any trips to Mars in the near future. Rocky — short for Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo — is the name of the exercise equipment devised by Zin Technologies with the backing of NASA for deep space missions, including upcoming trips to Mars.

Movies like The Martian show us some great — though still at this time rather far fetched — ideas for travel to and from Mars and other deep space locations. The reality is that our first manned mission to Mars will be in something more akin to a shoe box rather than the luxury liner that the astronauts on Hermes get to deal with in the book/movie. Another important consideration for space travel is exercise. Time spent in zero gravity can do some unpleasant things to our bodies. Muscle degeneration and loss of bone density are just a few of the concerns, because as the saying goes, if you don’t use ’em, you lose ’em. Zero gravity might make moving around a bit easier, but your body isn’t getting the exercise that it needs to maintain itself that gravity normally helps provide.

Residents on the International Space Station have plenty of exercise equipment, but again, they have a bit more room to work with than the Orion capsule that will ferry humans to deep space over the next few decades. So out of the need for compact, yet robust exercise equipment, Rocky was born.

From the outside, Rocky looks remarkably like an ordinary box with a rowing handle on it. That’s not too far from the truth, but there’s more to it than that. Rocky is a rowing style machine, but it will be able to simulate loads of up to 400 pounds (180kg), and allow for both aerobic and strength exercises. Astronauts will be able to do squats, deadlifts, and heel raises to work their lower bodies, while bicep curls, upright row, and other exercises will work the upper body.

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Rocky in use during testing. Image Courtesy of NASA

In the image above you can see the overall size of the box, and what it would look like in use here on Earth. It’ll look just a little bit different in the Orion capsule, where space is at a bit of a premium. NASA is using the diagram below to give an example of its placement.

Image courtesy of NASA

Rocky’s home on the Orion capsule will be just below the side hatch. Current capsule designs will require that the crew’s seats be collapsed in order to use Rocky to exercise. Rocky will get its first in-orbit action during the first manned Orion mission, which will be a short exploratory mission geared towards testing the capsule before longer deep space missions.

What do you think about Rocky? What other types of exercises or equipment would make sense for the Orion capsule? Tell us what you think in the comment section below, or on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.

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