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    Muscles in microgravity: from fibres to human motion

    di Prampero, Pietro E. and Narici, Marco V. (2003) Muscles in microgravity: from fibres to human motion. Journal of Biomechanics, 36 (3). pp. 403-412. ISSN 1873-2380

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    In simulated or actual microgravity, human and animal postural muscles undergo substantial atrophy: after about 270 days, the muscle mass attains a constant value of about 70% of the initial one. Most animal studies reported preferential atrophy of slow twitch fibres whose mechanical properties change towards the fast type. However, in humans, at the end of a 42-days bed rest study, a similar atrophy of slow and fast fibres was observed. After microgravity, the maximal force of several muscle groups showed a substantial decrease (6–25% of pre-flight values). The maximal power during very short “explosive” efforts of 0.25–0.30 s showed an even greater fall, being reduced to 65% after 1 month and to 45% (of pre-flight values) after 6 months. The maximal power developed during 6–7 s “all-out” bouts on an isokinetic cycloergometer was reduced to a lesser extent, attaining about 75% of pre-flight values, regardless of the flight duration. In these same subjects, the muscle mass of the lower limbs declined by only 9–13%. Thus, a substantial fraction of the observed decreases of maximal power is probably due to a deterioration of the motor co-ordination brought about by the absence of gravity. To prevent this substantial decay of maximal absolute power, we propose that explosive exercise be added to the daily in-flight training schedule. We also describe a system aimed at reducing cardiovascular deconditioning wherein gravity is simulated by the centrifugal acceleration generated by the motion of two counter rotating bicycles ridden by the astronauts on the inner wall of a cylindrical space module. Finally, cycling on circular or elliptical tracks may be useful to reduce cardiovascular deconditioning in permanently manned lunar bases. Indeed, on the curved parts of the path, a cyclist generates an outward acceleration vector (ac). To counterbalance ac, the cyclist must lean inwards, so that the vectorial sum of ac plus the lunar gravity tends to the acceleration of gravity prevailing on Earth.

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