Moon running on the Wall of Death

Science News finds inspiration from the carnival for a new way to keep astronauts in shape, by running along the inside of a circular wall just like motorcycle stunt-riders do on the Wall of Death:

An amusement park attraction, the Wall looks something like a giant wooden barrel with the top sawed off. Daredevils on motorcycles zip around the inside, driving along the circular wall in a feat that seems to defy gravity.

But exercise physiologists Gaspare Pavei and Valentina Natalucci weren’t doing motorcycle stunts — they were testing out a technique to run on the moon.

If the team’s calculations were correct, future moon dwellers running fast enough inside a cylinder would be able to stay on the wall, rather than float down to the ground, says Alberto Minetti, a physiologist at the University of Milan. That suggests the technique could one day offer lunar inhabitants a new means of Earth-like exercise, some 384,000 kilometers from our home planet.

Each runner’s harness attached to a bungee cord suspended from a nearly 40-meter-tall crane. That effectively reduced Pavei’s and Natalucci’s weight, mimicking moon gravity. Then, they had to figure out how to shift from standing vertically on the ground to running horizontally along the cylinder’s walls.

Pavei was up first. He sprinted straight at the wall like a kid trying parkour. No luck. He gently skidded down to the ground on his bungee cord. After a few failed attempts, Pavei took a cue from Wall of Death motorcyclists. He approached the wall at an angle, running counterclockwise up a small ramp at the cylinder’s base in a spiraling path. Suddenly, Pavei was cruising around nearly horizontal, shoes slapping the walls, body almost parallel to the ground.

“WOW,” Minetti remembers screaming in excitement as he watched from the ground. “I knew that physics and mathematics predicted this,” he says, “but it’s different … when you see it in reality.”

Minetti points out a minor issue for any would-be moon runners: the need for speed. They have to race pretty fast, he says, about 5 to 6 meters per second — roughly a 5-minute mile. But you don’t need to be an elite athlete to achieve this speed in short bursts, Pavei says.