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NASA astronaut runs 1st triathlon in space

by Clara Moskowitz, Asst. Managing Editor

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams completed a triathlon from on board the International Space Station on Sept. 16, 2012, using an orbital treadmill to complete the running portion. (NASA TV)
September 18, 2012

— NASA astronaut Sunita Williams has completed the first triathlon in space, running, biking and "swimming" along with athletes in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California over the weekend.

"I'm happy to be done," Williams said from on board the International Space Station Sunday (Sept. 16) after she crossed the orbital finish line. "It wasn't easy, and I'm sure everybody in California's very happy to be done too."

Sunita Williams is the U.S. commander of the Expedition 33 crew aboard the space station, which is orbiting Earth about 240 miles (386 km) overhead. She used exercise equipment, including a stationary bicycle, treadmill, and a strength-training machine designed for weightlessness, to simulate the triathlon experience in space.

After "swimming" half a mile (0.8 km), biking 18 miles (29 km), and running 4 miles (6.4 km), Williams finished with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds.

The space station has its own treadmill and stationary bike, which use harnesses and straps in place of gravity to keep astronauts from floating away. To simulate the swimming portion of the race, Williams used what's called the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device, or ARED, to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity.

To simulate swimming, Williams used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity. (NASA TV)

"It's critically important to understand human physiology and how to keep you strong on orbit," said NASA's flight director in Mission Control after Williams completed the triathlon, congratulating her on a race "well done."

Exercise is mandatory for all astronauts, because without it the spaceflyers' muscles and bones would deteriorate in weightlessness.

"A big shout out to our astronaut strength and conditioning folks, who were really interested in this and who got this whole workout together," Williams said after finishing the race, adding thanks to the staff of NASA's Exercise Lab as well as to neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent, who trained with Williams before her flight and completed the race in Malibu.

"Thanks everyone for your support and ideas about health and fitness and how important it is for humans and getting us back into long-duration spaceflight," Williams said.

An avid athlete, Williams began training for the triathlon before she launched to the space station on July 14. After arriving in space, she virtually ran the Aug. 12 Falmouth Road Race, a seven-mile race run in Falmouth, Mass., as part of her training regimen for the triathlon.

Sunita Williams used the space station's ergometer to complete the biking portion of the triathlon. (NASA TV)

The triathlon wasn't her first orbital athletic achievement. During her last stint on the outpost in 2007, Williams ran the Boston Marathon on the space treadmill, finishing in four hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds.

Williams is one of three people living and working on the space station right now. Her Expedition 33 crewmates Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) arrived with her in July, and the three will return to Earth together in November.

Three more spaceflyers — Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba — departed the space station and landed in Kazakhstan late Sunday EDT. Three new crew members are expected to launch in October.

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Video: Astronaut runs triathlon

Video credit: NASA