Professor, Athletic Training
When Professor of Athletic Training John Caruso is not in the classroom teaching exercise and sports science, he could be playing with a giant yo-yo. Though this may sound like only a diversion, it's one way that Caruso is exploring how to keep astronauts healthy in space.
During his two-year postdoctoral study at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Caruso began researching the physiological aspects of space flight. He found that the lack of gravity causes many changes in the body, including fluid shift and loss of bone mass, muscle mass and muscle strength. "These changes adversely affect mission objectives and astronauts' health," Caruso says.
Early space expeditions, like a trip to the moon, were only a few days. But with advancements in technology and equipment, future space flights, such as a trip to Mars, could last 15 to 30 months. "We don't know if astronauts can tolerate that length of time without gravity," Caruso says. "This research is devoted to keeping people healthy in an environment inhospitable to human life."
What astronauts experience in space is similar to muscle atrophy due to lack of use, much like the effects of aging. And because of this similarity, Caruso says his research will have broad applications in the field of geriatrics and elsewhere.
Caruso has enlisted the help of several students who serve as subjects and as research technicians using the giant yo-yo, which is actually a strength-training machine. Developed in Sweden, the devise uses inertia rather than gravity to build muscle. It operates on a flywheel that does not require weights, making it ideal in an environment without gravity.
"It's a giant yo-yo that's operated with your feet," Caruso says. "There are only a few of these in the United States, so it's a wonderful opportunity for the students to be able to work with one right here on the TU campus."
Interest in the yo-yo from NASA and others gives Caruso every reason to move forward with his research. In doing so, he'll be able to involve more students by giving them the opportunity to participate in the development and testing of the equipment while authoring papers on their findings.