The International Space Station is humanity’s most expensive gym membership.
Since the earliest days of human spaceflight, it’s been understood that longer trips away from Earth’s gravity can have a detrimental effect on an astronaut’s body. Floating weightless invariably leads to significantly reduced muscle mass in the same way that a patient’s muscles can atrophy if they spend too much time laying in bed. With no gravity to constantly fight against, an astronauts legs, back, and neck muscles will weaken from disuse in as little as a week. While this may not pose an immediate problem during spaceflight, astronauts landing back on Earth in this physically diminished state are at a higher risk of injury.
Luckily this problem can be largely mitigated with rigorous exercise, and any orbiting vessel spacious enough to hold human occupants for weeks or months will by necessity have enough internal volume to outfit it with basic exercise equipment such as a treadmill or a resistance machine. In practice, every space station since the Soviet Union’s Salyut 1 in 1971 has featured some way for its occupants to workout while in orbit. It’s no replacement for being on Earth, as astronauts still return home weaker than when they left, but it’s proven to be the most practical approach to combating the debilitating aspects of long duration spaceflight.
Of course, there’s an obvious problem with this: every hour spent exercising in space is an hour that could be better spent doing research or performing maintenance on the spacecraft. Given the incredible cost of not just putting a human into orbit, but keeping them there long-term, time is very literally money. Which brings us back to my original point: astronauts spending two or more hours each day on the International Space Station’s various pieces of exercise equipment just to stave off muscle loss make it the world’s most expensive gym membership.
The ideal solution, it’s been argued, is to design future spacecraft with the ability to impart some degree of artificial gravity on its passengers through centripetal force. The technique is simple enough: just rotate the craft along its axis and the crew will “stick” to the inside of the hull. Unfortunately, simulating Earth-like gravity in this way would require the vessel to either be far larger than anything humanity has ever launched into space, or rotate at a dangerously high speed. That’s a lot of risk to take on for what’s ultimately just a theory.
But a recent paper from the University of Tsukuba in Japan may represent the first real steps towards the development of practical artificial gravity systems aboard crewed spacecraft. While their study focused on mice rather than humans, the results should go a long way to codifying what until now was largely the stuff of science fiction.
For the uninitiated, Knights of the Round was a hack-and-slash arcade game released by Capcom in 1991 that rather loosely followed the legend of King Arthur and the eponymous Knights of the Round Table. In it, up to three players make their way from stage to stage, vanquishing foes and leveling up their specific character’s weapons and abilities. But [Sebastian Mihai] was looking for a new way to experience this classic title, so he decided to reverse engineer the game and create his own version called Warlock’s Tower.
Those familiar with the original game will no doubt notice some of the differences right away while watching the video below, but for those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of Arthur’s digital adventures, the major changes are listed on the project’s web page. Among the most notable are the removal of cooperative multiplayer and stage time limits. This turns the game from a frantic beat ’em up to a more methodical adventure. Especially since you now have to compete the game in a single life. If we had to guess, we’d say [Sebastian] prefers his games to have a bit of a challenge to them.
Even if you aren’t interested in playing Warlock’s Tower yourself, the story of how [Sebastian] created it is absolutely fascinating. He started with zero knowledge of Motorola 68000 assembly, but by the end of the project, was wrangling multiple debuggers and writing custom tools to help implement the approximately 70 patches that make up the custom build.
The hundreds of hours of work that went into creating these patches is documented as a sort of stream of consciousness on the project page, allowing you to follow along in chronological order. Whether it inspires you to tackle your own reverse engineering project or makes you doubt whether or not you’ve got the patience to see it through, it’s definitely worth a read. If you’re a Knights of the Round fan, you should also take a look at the incredible wealth of information he’s amassed about the original game itself, which honestly serves as an equally impressive project in its own right.
For more than a few years now, we’ve been covering the saga of tractors from the larger manufacturers on which all components are locked down by software to the extent that they can only be replaced by officially sanctioned dealers. We’re thus pleased to see a couple of moments when the story has broken out of the field of a few farmers and right-to-repair geeks and into the mainstream. First up: a segment on the subject from NPR is worth a listen, as the US public radio station interviews a Montana farmer hit by a $5k fuel sensor on his John Deere as a hook form which to examine the issue. Then there is a blog post from the National Farmers Union, the body representing UK farmers, in which they too lay out the situation and also highlight the data-grabbing aspects of these machines.