Dec 21 2013

Sergei Avdeyev and New Year’s Day


We all like a good cosmonaut. And Sergei Avdeyev is an interesting example of one.

Bing! or Yahoo or him. If you have a minute or two to spare, read about the various Soyuz missions in which he participated and about his work aboard the Mir space station. And if you have a passing interest in slipping the surly bonds and pushing back the boundaries of human endeavour, you can read about his record-breaking 747.59 days in earth orbit.

While Avdeyev was completing his 11,968 circumnavigations of our planet and his 10 space walks, John Major was busy winning (against all odds) his first and (to date only) general election (developing his fondness for curry in the process), Steffi Graf was winning the Women’s Singles Championships at Wimbledon and the members of youthful musical collective One Direction were winning their parents’ admiration with demonstrations of their ability to keep their Farex down.

Twenty years later, space tourism is on its way to becoming a widespread reality. But consider this: space is a challenging environment for even the most tenacious of Barnes Runners, affecting them in a plethora of ways. In microgravity, reduction in bone density occurs at a rate of 1 to 1.5 % a month, leading to an acceleration of age-related changes similar to osteoporosis. Decreases in bone density and strength are more pronounced in some skeletal regions, such as the pelvis (although much of the loss is reversible upon return to Earth). But prolonged exposure to weightlessness also increases the risks of kidney stones and bone fractures, both of which are associated with bone demineralization. Some studies even suggest that microgravity compromises the ability of bones to heal after fractures.

Long stays in space also impact muscles – particularly the ones we use for running. There is loss of muscle mass, strength and endurance, especially in the lower extremities. Changes in muscle performance, coupled with the effects of microgravity on connective tissues place astronauts at risk of fatigue and injury. It is unlikely that you will be as athletic-looking as George Clooney or Susan Bullocks upon your return to Mortlake.

Another curious correlation of spending time in orbit is time dilation – the actual difference of elapsed time between two events as measured by observers either moving relative to each other or differently situated from gravitational masses. As runners, time dilation is a very real phenomenon and something the effects of which we have to counteract on an on-going basis – not because we run particularly fast, but because our Garmins would not work unless GPS satellites were able to adjust for similar bentding of spacetime to coordinate with systems on Earth.

There are different types of time dilation (relative velocity, gravitational, etc.) and they come in to play at different orbits around Earth, even cancelling each other out to an extent. For many years, Avdeyev held the record for time dilation experienced by a human being. As a result of the time he has spent in space combined with the speeds at which he was travelling (faster even than Barnes Runners’ grade A athletes), he aged roughly 0.02 seconds (20 milliseconds) less than an Earthbound person would have – something of which his wife is painfully conscious.

Sergei Avdeyev will turn 58 on 1 January 2014. A dozen Barnes Runners will be competing in the Serpentine 10km in Hyde Park to mark his birthday, have their own shot at turning back the clock and claiming back a few milliseconds and – most importantly – celebrate Latvia becoming the 18th country to adopt the euro. The race does not start until 11h00, so when we finish, it will most likely be time (give or take a few milliseconds) for a spot of lunch. Consider joining us – and toasting Avdeyev, Latvia and reclaiming youth.

Got to http://www.serpentine.org.uk/pages/nyd10k.html and click appropriately.


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