Edward Thomas

Astral Flab Gets a Workout from Our Man in Math

One casualty of space travel, even for rigorously trained astronauts, is physical deconditioning from the effects of no gravity, or microgravity. These effects, including loss of muscle mass, body density, and overall decreased fitness, are temporary — making walking initially tricky for astronauts after they come back to earth, for example — but could be serious in an emergency landing requiring agility to escape.

Topologist and Albany mathematics professor Edward Thomas is one of the recent innovators of methods to combat astral flab. As a visiting scientist sponsored by the Houston-based Universities Space and Life Sciences Consortium, he developed the mathematical model for the Resistive Exercise Dynamometer (RED), an exercise machine for astronauts designed by a scientist at the Johnson Space Center. NASA was to debut the exercise device on the space shuttle that was launched this month. It was detained for another, unspecified flight.

In-flight fitness apparatus has been evolving since Skylab 2. Thomas's task was to combine resistive and aerobic exercises and adapt them to newer, smaller shuttles requiring more compact REDs that crew members can adjust and that still achieve the earth-like gravitational forces needed to be effective.

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