The International Space Station will soon be bidding farewell to one of its essential components: a treadmill.
In July, the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System, or TVIS, which was used for nearly 13 years aboard the ISS, will be sent off to that big gym in the sky in a Russian unmanned resupply vehicle, according to Space.com. The treadmill, and all the other cargo in the vehicle, will be incinerated as it falls through the atmosphere.
But don’t fret about out-of-shape astronauts; there’s already a new U.S.-made treadmill aboard the ISS -- the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or Colbert. The name was selected in 2009 after comedian and cable show host Stephen Colbert encouraged his fans to vote for him in a naming contest for a new ISS module. The name Colbert won the contest, but NASA decided to dub the module Tranquility and reserve Colbert’s name for the new treadmill.
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who ran a marathon on the old treadmill in 2007, delivered the news to Colbert in April 2009 on “The Colbert Report:”
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One of the original challenges with bringing a treadmill aboard the ISS was preventing the vibrations from a runners’ steps from shaking the whole station. Heavy vibrations could disrupt some of the delicate scientific experiments and possibly threaten the structural integrity of the ISS. The designers of TVIS (pronounced “tee-viss”) solved this by putting the treadmill atop a gyroscope. TVIS worked reliably throughout its tenure and never shook the ISS apart.
Plus there’s another problem with running in space that you don’t normally find at the gym: the possibility of floating away mid-stride.
"On Earth, of course, gravity is holding you down. You don't have to wear any type of equipment that will hold you down," Williams said in an interview with collectSPACE. "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."
Treadmill Colbert is made from a basic medical treadmill, slightly modified with nickel plating. It’s wider than TVIS, allowing astronauts a bit more freedom of movement. Also, instead of resting on a gyroscope like TVIS, Colbert sits on springs that are hooked to dampeners. Because of this setup, Colbert doesn’t require power to run and is more reliable. But it’s also louder.
"Noise and reliability are fighting against each other here," Curt Wiederhoeft, the project manager for Colbert, said in a NASA statement in 2009. “With a lot more time, we could have had both quiet and reliable. We went for reliable and did what we could with noise.”
The fact that the namesake of the bombastic comedian makes a bit of a racket does seem oddly appropriate.