The Build

Bluedot is over, and our project was a success! We spent a very tiring weekend explaining to everyone how astronauts exercise, whilst blowing up balloons, giving out stickers and setting off bottle rockets. A few people did ask how we managed to build it all, so I figured I’d write a little something about our apparatus here.



So, after The Physiological Society approved my outreach grant I went on a spending spree. I purchased bike pumps, lengths of tubing, balloons, brackets, screws and nipped to the local B&Q. I’m a bit in love with the wood cutting machinery at B&Q. It’s is basically a big circular saw connected to a frame which takes up an entire wall. It can cut wood to any size you want. As I’m awful at saws, I was excited to measure things up and pass it off to the folks at B&Q.

I came home with a car full of treats, and starting drilling away. I basically made a big box of wood, which can be taken apart, and rebuilt, quickly. I drilled holes to allow the tubing to pass through, and hide it away inside the box. I used a jigsaw to cut a little square in the lid, so insert a big upright bike pump, and led a tube out of the front of the box. Simples.


Using a loads of rubbish from labs I connected tubes together, and built a little stand for the empty bottles to sit in. Charlotte drank herself through roughly 900 bottles of Pepsi Max to give me a load of empty bottles.


I had to toy around with a couple of things to actually bung up the bottles. I originally planned to jam a cork in, drill though it, snap a sterile pipette and jam that through. Then connect my tube to  the other side of the stripette and Robert’s your dad’s brother!

However, I soon realised that sellotape wrapped around the tube would work just as well. And when I saw as well, I mean better. And a roll of sellotape is much simpler to carry around then all of that junk.

So there you have it. Although if you’re making it at home, you can do it much simpler, by drilling a small hole through a cork, jamming it into a two little bottle with 200-300 mL water in, then feed the needle from your bike pump through, pump away and enjoy!


I’ve put a lot of my life into making it possible to fly in space at all.

Everyone knows exercise is important right? It helps you lose weight, increase muscle mass, makes you feel good, decreases health problems and according to The Oatmeal eat obscene amounts of amazing terrible food. But I bet you didn’t know how important exercise is to astronauts, did you?

Think about it. Crew members on the International Space Station can spend months in “microgravity,” or as you probably call it “floaty floaty space times.” Because of this they do not use their muscles properly. It’s hard to imagine, but just by standing up and walking around you actually use a lot of your muscles, and prevent them from just wasting away. So, just imagine what happens in space when all of this day to day exercise is cut out.

Crew members can lose up to 25% of their muscle mass after a stint on the International Space Station. Which you’ll recognise as about 25% more than you ideally want to lose. Sarcopenia, a disease literally meaning “poverty of the flesh”, occurs when you lose about 1% of your muscle mass. And generally to over 50s!

Some of you weedy, gym-phobic jerks are probably all like “so what? I don’t got me no muscles and I been doing just fine.”

Firstly, you are not fine, that was an appalling sentence and you should apologise for it. Secondly, skeletal muscle (the type of muscle you think of when you generally think of muscles) is the biggest organ in your skinny little joke of a body. Skeletal muscle makes up all of you. In only the most extreme circumstances is there something in your body bigger than muscle.

Mostly, it’s fat. Which is pretty darn gross.

Aside from the obvious, muscle wastage can lead to lots of problems. Rates of Type 2 Diabetes increase, and those suffering from sarcopenia often undergo complications following surgery. It can even cause bone loss. It sucks, is what I’m trying to say.

Futhermore, remember how you can’t be an astronaut because;
A) you’re not smart enough
B) ain’t lucky enough
C) and most importantly here, you would fail all of the physical challenges given to trainee astronauts

These folks are literally the best we have to offer. They’re so good at what they do, they get to dick about in space doing it.

“So, exercise right? That is what fixes it right? Right?”

Better, but stop saying “right?” Asking rhetorical questions in a seemingly relaxed, but secretly pain-stakingly crafted manner is my thing you twerp.

And yes. Although, remember that microgravity I talked about before? What type of exercise can you do when things weigh nothing and you just float around? It’s not like you can just strap someone onto a treadmill can you?..

Luckily those folks at NASA are crazier than you think. They have manufactured a treadmill (called COLBERT) with two bungee cord straps and braces. This means that crew members can be harnessed and attached to the treadmill. This means they can run just as normal.

But why would you run, when you can ride a bike in space? Like I said them NASA smarties are also a little bit zaney. CEVIS is basically a box with pedals on it. Again, you get strapped into it, but it means you can ride whilst you float around.

So, that’s your cardio done. As microgravity affects everything it is important that crew members exercise all muscle groups. Enter ARED, the advanced resistive exercise device; a goddamn beast of a machine. ARED uses piston-driven vacuum cylinders to simulate exercise. Crew members lift bars to push the cylinders closed, like a bicycle pump. What is so special about ARED is the flexibility. Not only can the amount of vacuum be changed to increase the amount of “weight” but the machine can be altered to mimic lots of different exercises.

Having trouble picturing any of this? Well how about you get yourself over to The Bluedot Festival. It’s a new festival at Jodrell Bank, showcasing the best in music, art and science. And we’ve been chosen. We’ll be there all day Saturday and Sunday showing people how to #exerciselikeanastronaut. Yeah, I stick hashtags on things now. On the ISS crew members attempt to exercise for 2 hours a day. We’ll be knocking out a week’s worth of exercise in just two days.

So, come along and check us out. And then stick around for 65daysofstatic, Caribou, Everything Everything, Polinski, DJ Shadow and so many more artists. Brian Cox and Robin Ince will be there, and everyone loves him right? Come on, it’ll be fun. We can blow up some things*.


* things may include balloons.

Today’s quote is from Chris Hadfield.