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A Lunar "Wall of Death": How Astronauts Could Keep Fit on the Moon

We should put even more carnival acts on the Moon!

By Cassidy Ward
Space: 1999 (1975)

In 1975, just a few years after the historic conclusion of the Apollo program, Space: 1999 (now streaming on Peacock) imagined what it might be like when humanity goes back to the Moon to stay. In the film, there’s a lunar scientific research station known as Moonbase Alpha and a large nuclear waste disposal site on the Moon’s far side. Everything’s going swimmingly until a mysterious form of magnetic radiation detonates the nuclear waste and transforms the Moon into a gigantic spacecraft rocketing through the cosmos.

Living on the Moon for an extended period, maybe the rest of their lives, would come with some considerable health challenges including muscle atrophy and bone loss. Soon, humanity really will return to the Moon for good and scientists have proposed that astronauts might stay fit by running on the walls.

For More on the Moon:
Earth's Quasi-Moon Kamo'oalewa Might be Literal Offspring from the Moon
What Are the Moon Phases and How Do They Work?
NASA Proposes Moon Standard Time with Slightly Shorter Seconds

What Is the Wall of Death?

A depiction of several stunt drivers drive on the walls of a Wall of Death.

You might have seen one before at a carnival or traveling circus; they are sometimes called the Wall of Death, Motordrome, or Velodrome. It’s a carnival sideshow featuring motorcycles or small cars driving along the interior walls of a cylinder. The act first appeared at Coney Island in 1911 and just over a century later it might be making its way to the surface of the Moon.

Performers start flat on the ground and use a ramp to transition onto the wall. If you can maintain the right velocity, the combination of friction and centripetal force overcomes the force of gravity and you’ll stick to the walls. On Earth, performers need motorized vehicles to achieve and maintain enough speed but, on the Moon, gravity doesn’t have as strong a hold.

Researchers from the University of Milan crunched the numbers and realized that a normal running gait might be enough for an astronaut to pick themselves off the ground and sprint along the walls in lunar gravity.

Future Astronauts Could Run Sprints in a Lunar Wheel of Death

To date, most of our activities in space have been relatively short in duration, but they’ve been getting longer. In recent years, astronauts have completed missions to the International Space Station lasting six months or a year.

NASA and other space agencies have plans for long-term activities on the Moon, and missions to Mars would take roughly two years roundtrip. The farther we push the boundaries of human exploration, the longer we’re going to have to stay off-planet. Figuring out ways to keep in shape while off-world will be crucial for the success of those missions and the health of the astronauts.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams exercises on the International Space Station.

Researchers suggest that muscle atrophy, bone loss, and other physical symptoms of low gravity might be mitigated by running the wall of death. Not satisfied with a mathematical possibility, researchers set about testing their idea on Earth. They started by building a cylinder roughly 10 meters in diameter.

Next, they reduced the subjective weight of participants to what they would experience on the Moon, by strapping them into a harness connected to bungee cords. The setup allowed a person to move as if they weighed one-sixth as much, just like on the Moon.

Participants needed between five and eight practice attempts before they were able to get off the ground. They used a ramp to transition from the ground to the wall and, using the weight displacement system, were able to run a few laps around the wall of death.

Researchers measured intense metabolic activity and forces comparable to running on Earth. The results suggest that running in a wall of death creates artificial personal gravity that might help to mitigate bone loss, muscle atrophy, and other physical consequences of microgravity. In the future, astronauts might also have to moonlight as circus performers.

The complete run of Space: 1999 is streaming now on Peacock.