The environments of interplanetary travel and alien worlds present several problems to the human body. In microgravity astronauts lose 1% bone density per-month. On Mars the bone loss will be less dramatic, but with only 62% gravity of earth the astronauts will still continually weaken in comparison to earth bound individuals. We need to find a way to mitigate these effects without the use of heavy equipment. At roughly $10,000 to get a pound of material to space, a 300 lb olympic weight set isn’t cost effective. The distance that these men and women will be from home is literally astronomical. In addition to staying healthy, we need to keep them happy and engaged: enter MovNat, parkour and acro-yoga. These are disciplines that “use your body and only your body to move through space.”
The problem in 2 parts.
Part One: The Journey
During the 10 month plus space flight, from Earth to Mars the goal should be to mitigate the damage done to the body as much as possible. NASA has been testing some systems to help with this, like CEVIS (Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System), TVIS or (Treadmill Vibration Isolation System) and RED (Resistive Exercise Device). These devices have worked with with some success. However, the bone loss experienced by astronauts is still about 1% per month, an astronomical amount! This is because having something pulling down on you in this way is still only applying force to the more solid parts of the body. It does nothing for the liquid dominant cardiovascular system, which is used to operating with the force of gravity. CEVIS, TVIS, and RED are also less than effective because there is a limited amount of time that the astronauts can spend in these devices. In normal Earth conditions we are under the force of gravity basically all the time. On the ISS if they spent 4 hours a day with these devices, that would be a significant amount of time spent that cannot even compensate for their environment. There is no way that we are going to find a way with current technology and cost prohibitive measures to keep people as fit in an extended stay in a 0 g environment as we could on earth.
Every piece of equipment that is taken on the Mars mission will increase cost. If the training in space is done right, the only thing the astronauts will need is the TVIS. Everything else can be achieved using the space shuttle itself and the body. What would work best for the trip is a practice that would look similar to acro-yoga here on Earth. On Earth acro-yoga is the art of lifting and moving other people in space. Instead of “lifting” people it would be an art of finding ways to use a workout partner to provide mutual resistance using a confined space. If each astronaut were paired with another of roughly equal size and strength, many strength exercises could be performed with minimal or no equipment. It would also be surprising if integrating this system would not have a positive effect on the astronauts’ balance when they re-enter a gravity environment. This is because maneuvering another person in this way would be similar to negotiating gravity in a constantly changing environment.
In addition to what could be achieved using this partner resistance system, there is a lot more versatility that can be applied to the TVIS, like quadrupedi in space. There are hundreds if not thousands of methods of locomotion that humans have available to them other than walking and running. Many of them do a very good job to challenge the human movement system much more globally as well. Adding something as simple as a bear crawl (foot hand crawl) to the list of exercises done on the TVIS would vastly increase its versatility. Bear crawls increase the need for cross body limb integration and stabilization and distribute load across the upper and lower body.
Part Two: The Destination
On Mars astronauts experience 62% of Earth's gravity. What we need to do is to find ways for them to increase the effects of gravity with minimal equipment and maximum safety. First and foremost, using “body armor” training pre-mission, during the flight, and once on Mars is without a doubt the most important thing they will need to do. Rolling your ankle on Earth is no big deal. On Mars that could be catastrophic. The nearest drug store with an ankle wrap is several light minutes away. Therefore, training the ligaments and tendons of the joints is key. In addition to that, once on Mars, the astronauts should be trained in a series of natural movements to stay fit and healthy, including crawling, walking, running, lifting found objects, jumping, climbing and anything else that may be needed on a martian environment.
The most important thing that will be added to the mission by this proposal is that these methods of fitness and training will be fun for the astronauts. For much of this mission these brave men and women will be 8 light minutes from home. They will have only their fellow astronauts to keep them company. If they have a system of fun challenging partner and group based exercises, it will go a long way to keeping their spirits up. Parkour, MovNat, and Acro-Yoga are all fun, engaging and entertaining. That is what these folks out there will really need, and if it keeps them fit at the same time, all the better.
If you think about the logistics of the mission, there is no other option. Excess materials add significant cost, and an exercise system that is dull and monotonous will only dampen spirits. If the environment, equipment, and the bodies of the astronauts can be used to keep themselves healthy, happy, and engaged, isn’t that the clear choice?