Apollo astronaut tripping his way across the Moon. Credit: NASA/Image elaboration Schlacht and Umhof.

Apollo astronaut tripping his way across the Moon.
Credit: NASA/Image
elaboration Schlacht and Umhof.

The problem of walking – and falling — on the Moon is gaining renewed attention by a research team.

Principal Investigator, Irene Lia Schlacht of the Politecnico di Milano and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, along with her colleagues, are asking some key questions: How crewmembers will walk inside and outside a lunar habitat. How high does a person jump off the Moon? Should Moon architecture have steps or should a facility support climbing to move about?

“The hypogravity will lead to vestibular system malfunction, loss of muscular mass, and stiffness of the legs, negatively affecting a person’s balance: Yes, we can climb, but we can also easily lose our balance and trip up,” the research team explains in an abstract prepared for the Fourth European Lunar Symposium to be held May 18-19 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Gait and balance

To avoid all of this, there is work to be done to appreciate gait and balance on the Moon, the research team suggests. Their investigation will address balance and deconditioning, for the first time getting much closer to the real conditions that will affect astronauts during Moon and Mars missions.

Interpretation of Moon walking posture and sight-line image. Credit: NASA/Apollo 14/M. Masali

Interpretation of Moon walking posture and
sight-line image.
Credit: NASA/Apollo 14/M. Masali

Also, a methodology is to be devised that focuses on the collection of basic anthropometrical and postural data.

A “Walking on the Moon” experiment aims to measure the walking pattern of astronauts during space walks and strutting around within the confines of a spacecraft.

Avoid tripping

“On the Moon, the research group advises, “it is very important to avoid tripping by increasing one’s balance in order to assure the safety required in those extreme contexts. Balance is a factor that depends on many variables, such as: visual field, sensorimotor system, vestibular system.”

These variables are all affected by the different environmental constraints of Moon and Mars environments.

Trio of techniques

To simulate the same conditions of a Moon/Mars mission, the team has formulated ways to attain their data.

Partial gravity can be achieved with a vertical treadmill, deconditioning achieved with bed rest, and artificial gravity as a physiological countermeasure. Making use of this trio of techniques, a realistic reduced gravity effect can be obtained to simulate and analyze Moon and Mars walking patterns.

ESA's Neutral Buoyancy Facility. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2015

ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility.
Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2015

 

Another data gathering tool consists of using the swimming pool of the European Space Agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility at the European Astronaut Centre located near Cologne, Germany.

Also engaged in the study: J. Rittweger of the German Aerospace Center, B. Foing of ESA/ESTEC, M. Daumer of the Human Motion Institute, and M. Masali of the Universitá di Torino.

 

While awaiting the results of this research, go to this video collection of Moonwalkers losing their lunar legs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEdYf4SGhuI

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