First Project

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First Biomechanic Study in Space Utilizing High Speed Cameras and Electronic Digitizing - 1979

In 1979, I received a phone call from the Mission Specialist, Dr. William Thornton, the Astronaut to fly the first night mission to space.  Dr. Thornton had invented and constructed a number of exercise devices as well as the first treadmill utilized by the Astronauts.  Dr. Thornton indicated that he heard that we could quantify movement by utilizing high speed cameras and latter digitizing the body joints to quantify kinematic parameters.  He wanted to set a meeting with us to discuss a particular problem.

Dr. Thornton, Dr. Thomas Moore, one of the astronaut's physicians, and the Astronaut, Mike Walker, came to visit me in the Coto Research Center  at Coto de Caza California.

The problem which was presented to us was the question of efficiency of running in space on the treadmill and the utilization of arm support. They wanted us to calculate the Center of Mass changes and the kinematics of different body's parts.  In addition a question was raised about the Russians astronauts not using their hands to support themselves while running on the treadmill in space. This differed from the American Astronauts who needed to utilize their hands to hold  handlebars on the treadmill to avoid backward rotation due to the feet propelling the body during the run.

At that time my company, Ariel Dynamics, Inc. at the Coto Research Center, was the only company in the World that could utilize film or video analysis and transmit electronically the results. In fact, I was the first one that used Electronic Digitizing to transmit position coordinates from the image screen to the Mainframe computer through a time-sharing system.

The results regarding the Soviet astronauts yielded very interesting results.  Not only the position of the bungee cords could be adjusted in the future to provide better efficiency, but also the Russian Secret was revealed. 

The proposal for the study started with the following introduction and it is definitely the first Biomechanical study in space utilizing all the necessary components such as cameras, a digitizer, and a mini computer to analyze the results. Remember at that time, there were no personal computers.  

COTO Research Center 
Science serving sports, industry and human performance
22000 Plano Trabuco Road
Trabuco Canyon, California 92678




   The present proposal is the first of its kind to compare the performance of four subjects (astronauts) running on a treadmill in a zero-gravity environment (Space) to the same subjects running in the normal gravitational environment of earth.

   Phase I data collection was during the STS7 and STS-3 Space Shuttle missions using a special on-board camera at 24 frames per second. The treadmill running activity was recorded from two different perspectives - front and side. Each astronaut wore a specially designed harness connected to the treadmill with "bungee" (elastic cords) to provide vertical reaction forces and assist the subject in returning to the treadmill after each stride. A handrail attached to the treadmill contributed to stabilization and comfort. Phase II will duplicate the exercise tests and data collection on earth using the same four astronauts and the same treadmill with the bungies eliminated. In addition, running on normal ground surface will also be filmed. It is expected that the comparison will determine the similarities and differences in running performances in order to facilitate sufficient and appropriate exercise/aerobic training in Space.

   A biomechanical analysis will subsequently performed on the Space film sequences with the same procedures to be applied to those obtained on earth. The technique begins with each frame being projected onto a digitizing screen and the location of each body joint (foot, ankle, knee, hip, shoulders, elbow, wrist and hand) accurately measured and saved under computer control. A proprietary transformation and kinematic analysis is performed on the digitized data to yield true image space joint displacement, velocity, and acceleration information. This information is then used to perform a kinetic analysis in order to determine the dynamic forces and moments acting on the subjects during the running activity. Bungie reaction forces were included in 'these calculations for the Space sequences.

WORK STATEMENT: Film sequences of the running motions of the four astronauts will be performed in Houston on the treadmill and on normal ground surface. Data collection will be made at the convenience of the subjects. Biomechanical analysis and data quantification will be performed at the Coto Research Center in California.

COST: $10,000.00

TERMS: 1/2 down; balance due upon completion of project and presentation of report

INVESTIGATORS: Gideon B. Ariel, Ph.D. M. Ann Penny, Ph.D.
Thomas P. Moore, M.D. William E. Thornton, M.D.

This study  was  the first Biomechanical study utilizing biomechanical equipment.

Our first successful project resulted  in many more Biomechanical Studies with NASA. Here is a letter to Dr. William Thornton who was responsible for our research studies.

You can see more details of the study here.

My company Ariel Dynamics, Inc. has continued to work with NASA since that time and remain actively involved.  We have been involved in a number of studies which I will report in the next pages.

The APAS System at the NASA Biomechanic Lab - 5MB

The APAS System utilized on the KC-135 - 3MB

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