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Weightless Wonder

Stephanie Feldman '04 likes to swim and play volleyball and basketball, so she knows the value of strong muscles. While taking Professor Jay Buckey's course called Life on Mars? Feldman learned that Buckey, associate professor of medicine and an astronaut who flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1998, worked with NASA researching the physiological impact of long periods of space travel. Of particular interest was the development of exercises that would be effective in a weightless environment.

Left to right: Seniors Lea Kiefer, Chelsea Morgan, Lauren Talbot, and Stephanie Feldman
Left to right: Seniors Lea Kiefer, Chelsea Morgan, Lauren Talbot, and Stephanie Feldman will have the chance to test their DREAM program aboard a KC135 aircraft in Houston this summer.

"Muscles weaken due to nonuse in microgravity, particularly postural muscles," says Feldman, who is from Fairfax, Calif., "and Professor Buckey described the problems inherent with multiple-hour workouts and a single bulky machine inside a small space shared by about half a dozen people or more."

Feldman and classmates Lea Kiefer, Chelsea Morgan, and Lauren Talbot, all '04s and all varsity athletes, began to explore the problem and were hooked. They developed DREAM, which stands for Dartmouth Resistance Exercises for Antigravity Muscles. DREAM targets four main muscle areas—calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles—by utilizing a simple resistance band, like a giant rubber band, for less than 15 minutes for three or four times a day. The students are convinced their program will keep these muscles in shape even if people are floating in a space ship.

To test this theory, Feldman and her team earned the chance to fly aboard NASA's Weightless Wonder, a KC135 aircraft that can simulate weightlessness. The Dartmouth seniors submitted their proposal and were one of 69 teams chosen to participate in the 2004 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

"On the KC135, each member of our team will complete five exercises, and we'll monitor the muscle activation using an electromyogram (EMG), which records electrical activity in muscles," says Feldman.

Because active muscles produce an electrical current, the EMG data hopefully will prove that the students' exercise regimen effectively works the muscles.

Feldman enjoys her role as project leader and says she's excited, not nervous, about riding on the KC135 in July.

"Never before have I worked on such a large project. Almost every day I'm fielding questions, looking for support, filling out forms, sending revised proposals to NASA, and trying to book everything, from hotels to cars to the EMG, for our ten days in Houston," she says. "Trying to work with so many people and on behalf of a whole team has been a very difficult process, but that is where I have learned the most. And, luckily, I can't think of a project that I would rather be working on."

- By Susan Knapp

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Last Updated: 5/30/08