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Astronauts May Moonwalk Faster Than Expected, NASA Finds

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The bounding gait used by astronauts on the moon is more the result of restrictive spacesuits than the low gravity up there, new research suggests. NASA's John De Witt led a study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, looking at walking and running speeds in normal and lunar gravity by putting a few astronauts and other test subjects in the DC-9 "Vomit Comet," an aircraft used for for zero- and low-G testing. It goes into a controlled freefall high in the air, then recovers, climbs and does it again — hard on the stomach, but useful for research.

De Witt's team tested to find the speed at which the subjects transitioned from a walk to a run while at 1/6th gravity — normally between 4 and 5 mph on Earth. They guessed that it would be much slower in theory than reality, about 1.8 mph — but it was actually 3.1 mph, much closer to a terrestrial transition speed than expected. That means that getting around on the moon was probably slow and weird more because of the bulky spacesuits worn for extra-vehicular activities and not any fundamental gravitational conflict with human anatomy. Slimmer, more flexible spacesuits should result in a great improvement in agility on future missions.

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—Devin Coldewey

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