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Scientists of the ISS Erlangen examine the effects of zero-gravity on the movement co-ordination

The gravity of the planet earth represents a continuous training stimulus for the cardio-vascular system. In absence of this stimulus the performance of these systems declines rapidly within a short time span. Astronauts on medium- or long-term space missions are confronted with exactly this problem. In order to counteract these negative zero-gravity-effects on the human body, the astronauts carry out a daily strength- and endurance-training for several hours. One of the most regularly used training exercises is the pedalling on a bicycle-ergometer. The interaction of the individual muscle groups is herby controlled by the brain. Field reports of astronauts and former experiments show on the other hand, that the co-ordinated interaction of the musculature during the zero-gravity-pedalling has a different pattern from the one occurring during pedalling under normal conditions on the ground, like e.g. a strong traction movement. This can result in an altered co-ordination in the astronaut and can in turn cause movement disorders. The aspects of the altered co-ordination and the influence of the zero-gravity on the brain and the leg-musculature are being examined by Prof. Lochmann and his team of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Sport of the FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg within the scope of the 13. Parable Flight Mission of the German Aerospace Centre.

The investigation of alterations of the leg movement was carried out simultaneously with 2 cameras which emit and receive infrared light and analyze the signal with computer aid. The brain activity was simultaneously recorded during the pedalling exercises using electroencephalography. In order to determine the chronological sequence and force of the muscle performance the electrical activity of 5 respective muscles of the left and of the right leg were measured and transmitted to a computer. In the parable flight experiment of the scientists in Erlangen for the first time ever the interlocked application of three state-of-the art research methods took place and was optimised. During the flights the test persons participating in the experiment carried out pedalling movements on a special bicycle ergometer, the Cyclus2. The Cyclus2, specially designed for these experiments, allows transmitting the force of the left and the right leg individually and independently from each other to the wheel drive. This challenging task was carried out by 6 test persons in 6000 to 8000 m altitude in a special aeroplane, a flying experimental laboratory. On three days 31 parables were flown respectively over the Atlantic, in the vicinity of the Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, with an Airbus 300 ZERO-G specially equipped for that purpose. During the flights approximately 34 minutes of zero-gravity could be used for the experiments. From the research the scientists expect findings regarding the functionality of the human locomotor system under variable zero-gravity conditions. The newly gained knowledge as well as the newly designed examination- and analysis-methods are to be used to develop effective training programmes for astronauts and for people with movement disorders.