London, February 26 : Laboratory tests conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest that future astronauts should run across the lunar surface to conserve energy, rather than walk. The tests were conducted with the help of exoskeleton that mimics the experience of moving around in a spacesuit.
Moon's weaker gravity and the constricting properties of spacesuits cause astronauts to move differently on the Moon than on Earth.
MIT researchers Christopher Carr and Dava Newman have now discovered a way to simulate the motion of astronauts on the Moon, and are hoping of designing better spacesuits. They are also planning future lunar activities.
The researchers pointed out that pressurised spacesuits make astronauts feel like wearing an air-filled balloon, and such suits resist bending to make it harder for Moonwalking astronauts to bend their legs at the knee.
Describing the exoskeleton they used in their study, the researchers said that just like a pressurised spacesuit, it resists bending at the knee by applying a force that tends to straighten the leg again.
The researchers said that the spring-like property of the exoskeleton-which consists of fibreglass rods that run the length of the wearer's legs, and clip into modified cycling shoes-might make running more efficient than walking for an exoskeleton-clad person.
It would be so, they added, because the extra springiness helps to recover a higher percentage of the energy put into each stride while running.
Carr insisted that the knowledge that running is more efficient than walking could enable astronauts explore the Moon or Mars in future.
"If you're out somewhere stuck in your spacesuit, running low on oxygen, and you have to get back to base, you should run, not walk, because the energy per unit distance is lower for running," New Scientist magazine quoted him as saying.
He further said that this knowledge was also significant for mission planners designing safety rules for astronauts, as they would then be able to calculate about how far one could safely walk before their spacesuit oxygen would run out.
"It turns out that walking is not the most efficient way. If you knew that you could run back, then potentially you could be less restrictive in your mission," Carr said.
The study has been reported in the journal Acta Astronautica.