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Space Station to Jettison First Treadmill, Plans to Keep COLBERT

Jun 13, 2013 03:01 PM EDT
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Astronauts and cosmonauts residing in the International Space Station have long relied on the “anti-gravity” treadmill, called the “Treadmill Vibration Isolation System,” (TVIS), as a way to counteract the debilitating effects of a lack of gravity, including a loss of muscle mass and bone density. So when collectSPACE.com incorrectly reported that the high-tech device had been jettisoned as space junk, it created a stir.

However, a NASA spokesperson confirmed June 11 that the apparatus, which is no longer in use, will instead be discarded with the next Russian unmanned resupply vehicle, Progress M-18M, scheduled to undock July 26. After its departure, both it and the treadmill will be destroyed during its descent back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

However, despite making headlines now, the TVIS was actually replaced long ago by a U.S. treadmill named after television comedian Stephen Colbert, at which point it was handed over to the Russians who used it until just recently.

Originally called the T-2, the machine was renamed the “Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,” or COLBERT, after the host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” urged fans to enter “Colbert” during a contest for naming a room on the ISS back in 2009.

Despite receiving the most amount of entries, NASA declined the suggestion and the room was named “Tranquility,” the eighth most popular response submitted by respondents. As a consolation prize, however, they offered Colbert the treadmill.

“There has been a history of treadmills, trying to get them to work pretty well in space, and it is no easy feat,” said NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who ran on both the TVIS and the COLBERT in 2006 and 2012, according to Mother Nature News.

Williams made history on the former by becoming the first person to run a full marathon in space, which she did simultaneously with the 2007 Boston Marathon.

“On Earth, of course, gravity is holding you down,” she explained. “On TVIS, you had a harness that went over your shoulders and around your waist and then had two connecting points on either side of your hips that connected it to the structure, the frame of the treadmill. That way, every time you pushed up, it pulled you back down.”

COLBERT functions in a similar way, though is noisier, which its manufacturers explained in a 2009 press release was a trade of in favor of reliability and is built to handle 150,000 miles of running.

In total, NASA astronauts are required to exercise 8 hours a day.

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