Rollerblading on the Moon

Spring is in full bloom here in the metroplex, so I had to dig the rollerblades out of the closet. This will be my fifteenth year rollerblading, and I think the main reason that I continue to do so is that it is absolute joy. There’s a small park here in Addison Circle with a nice loop over by the airport that I like to blade around, in part because it reminds me of the ‘roller rink’ in Central Park, NYC.

Back in the 90s, there was one area of the park, over by the angel fountain, IIRC, where a DJ would set up on the weekend with some amps, and rollerskaters and rollerbladers would circle around a paved oval jamming out to the music. Such a liberated, free-wheeling, unorthodox use of public areas was clearly contrary to the best corporate wishes of a Giuliani-led NYC, and the DJs were ordered out of the park. Undeterred, they set up a small broadcast antenna and took over one of the unused lower bands on the FM dial, and everyone would tune in and continue to groove in synchronicity around the rink. Well this really upset the authorities, who may have even gotten their FCC buddies involved, and the broadcasts stopped. So then people were left to their own individual walkmans, the rhythm was lost, and a beautiful thing died.

So I memorialize it in a way with my MP3 player and the Addison Loop, swooping around like an airplane taking off or landing from the adjacent Addison Airport, sometimes with the waxing gibbous Moon rising in the east to the tune of ELO’s “Ticket to the Moon”. Once you get some speed up it is almost like flying.

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Screen capture from
‘Planetes’ Ep.7: “Extraterrestrial Girl”

Which brings us to the Moon, where we should be able to fly in reality, with a large enough space and the right equipment. It will probably take a while to get to that point, but there have been many other forms of exercise proposed for the Moon in the interim. In his classic work “Where the Winds Sleep”, Neil Ruzic imagines a future history that describes the establishment of a Moonbase from 1975 to 2045. In 2025 we get the astrodomes. He opens the chapter:

“On the Moon you can make ten miles an hour on foot, a hundred fifty on a bicycle.”

Now that would be some wipeout, even in the low gravity of the Moon! Tricycles might be a bit more useful for stable transport and having more tire on the ground for traction. I can easily see maintenance workers using them to reach outlying areas of a base, such as a nuclear reactor.

Considering other sports, the author explores baseball and how the rules would be changed (and why), football, and soccer. We find out that just because the gravity on the Moon is only 1/6th that of Earth, that doesn’t mean that everything gets multiplied by six as a result. Especially things like long jumps that need a running start.

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Because running on the Moon is hard to get started. Even walking on the Moon is hard, and is more akin to loping or kangaroo-hopping than regular striding. Anyone who has been to Space Camp gets to go for a Moon walk in the 1/6th Gravity Chair, which is something akin to a bicycle saddle that goes between your legs, and then they hoist it up by tightening springs until you only weigh 1/6th of your Earth weight. Then you get to try to walk, which can be a hysterically funny exercise, and jump,which is a lot of fun. A Zero-G flight can also provide several Lunar gravity parabolas to get a brief taste of the delight of 1/6th gee.

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Photo illustration by John Blackford. From
“What Should We Do With the Moon?”
Discover Magazine, 09/1998

Once you do get up to speed, changing direction is really hard, since you’re not getting the traction you would get here on Earth. Rollerbladers will probably have a relatively easier time of it, but this will certainly add new complexities to many of the games we play for exercise. Just imagine tennis! Formal running tracks are likely to be inclined to assist in the turns around the course, cycling tracks even more so.

In the book “A la Decouverte de la Lune”, a very nicely done Moon travel guide that has not yet been translated into English, the authors note that on Earth if you jump straight up with both of your legs together the best you’ll usually do here is 45 cm, while on the Moon that would be over 3 m! Timewise you would spend about 0.7 seconds in the air here on Earth, 3.5 seconds airborne on the Moon. The rules for gymnastics are going to have to be entirely re-written for the Moon!

Getting into extreme gymnastics, the book “Growing up Weightless” by John Ford features a “Spider Room” where the kids create challenges for each other involving extremely dextrous moves in mazes and trellises and other fiendish constructs. Sort of a less-lethal variant of the well-known ‘Danger Room’ of Marvel Comic’s X-Men.

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Photo illustration by John Blackford. From
“What Should We Do With the Moon?”
Discover Magazine, 09/1998

In “Where the Winds Sleep”, there’s a brief explanation of why a high jumper that could clear a six foot bar here on Earth would not therefore clear a thirty-six foot bar on the Moon. It’s all in the physics – when a high jumper clears a six-foot bar he has only raised his all-important center-of-gravity (CoG) about three feet up. On the Moon this would translate to just over eighteen feet (3 x 6), plus the original three-ish from the ground to the center of gravity gives a twenty-one foot clearance.

Center-of-gravity is also important for rollerblading. Knowledge and control of the CoG is what distinguishes experienced bladers from the weekenders who give it a few wobbly tries and give up. The secret is squatting, almost crouching. The closer your CoG is to the ground the easier it is to not fall. Standing straight up almost guarantees a fall. Falls in Lunar gravity at slow speed shouldn’t be too much of a problem. At faster speeds, mass is still mass irrespective of gravity, and when it hits something at speed it’s going to hurt. An often overlooked benefit of rollerblading is that balance is one of the most brain-intensive functions of the body, and rollerblading is an intensely balance oriented activity, making it a mind & body workout.

Martial arts also make active use of the body’s CoG, and the 1/6th Lunar gravity opens up a whole new realm of discipline. What moves are possible in the higher leaps and longer hang times found on the Moon? Many of today’s combat moves that are fiction in kung fu movies may see actual use on the Moon. This idea is explored in a strange episode of ‘Planetes’ entitled “The Lunar Flying Squirrels” (episode 6), which features prodigious and seemingly impossible leaps.

In ‘Welcome to Moonbase’, author Ben Bova explores a number of possible physical activities to help keep residents of the Moon fit and healthy for their return to Earth. The swimming pool is Olympic-sized, with an additional diving area and platforms at 10 m, 20 m, and 30 m. The water is drawn from the base water supply, and is purified with the abundant oxygen available once we figure out the best way to unbind it from the Lunar rocks and dust. One concern that has been raised in regards to swimming on the Moon is that when your head breaches the surface, gravity is not pulling the water off of your body (and face) as quickly as it would on Earth because of the lower gravity and surface tension. This might make breathing a bit problematic during competition, but without any way to properly research it the risk remains unknown.

In addition to tennis, there’s handball, jai alai, and volleyball. I would pay good money to see a women’s volleyball championship on the Moon. It’s noted that basketball hoops have been moved up to 10 m in the lunar courts, and the playing area includes the Plexiglas walls of the court! Football has become linear football, played in the corridors of Moonbase with whatever small kickable object happens to be at hand. The author gives the rundown on what few rules there are. He also notes an annual Lunar Olympics.

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‘Leap of Faith’ artist: Pat Rawlings

The Lunar Olympics is best exemplified by artist Pat Rawlings’ ‘Leap of Faith’, which is also a NASA lithograph entitled ‘The Lunar Games’ (HQL-431). On the back it explains some of the records to be set on the Moon: pole vaulting over 35 meters, long jumping 55 m and weightlifting an Earth-equivalent mass of 1,100 kilograms. Just a few years ago NASA made a push for a Lunar bid with ‘Lunar Olympics’ and Out of this World Olympics. ‘Science News for kids” even has a Lunar Olympics Challenge.

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Cover: ‘Odyssey Magazine’,
April 1999 Art by Michael Carroll

Passing outside of large, enclosed spaces, perhaps in the form of domes or massive underground caverns, we venture onto the surface of the Moon. I can only imagine the tricks possible on a Lunar BMX course during the long hang time, an idea explored in the article “Lunar X Games”. Braver souls might want to try skiing or rego-boarding the local craters. While likely to be considered reckless, foolhardy, and putting expensive equipment at risk, it should also be recognized that the risk element, and its mitigation, in these ‘outdoor’ activities is going to be driving a lot of advances in vac-suit technology, making space safer for everyone.

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Screen capture from ‘Apollo 14: Journey to
Fra Mauro’
Spacecraft Films, 2002

The best example of Lunar sports to date is Alan Shepard’s golf outing at the Apollo 14 landing site (3.6S, 17.5W) in Fra Mauro. This is how he described it:

AS: “Uh Houston, while you’re looking that up, you might recognize what I have in my hand as the, uh, handle for the contingency sample return. I just so happen to have a genuine 6-iron on the bottom of it; in my left hand I have a little white pellet that’s familiar to millions of Americans. I drop it down. Unfortunately the suit is so stiff I can’t do this with two hands, but I’m going to try an old sandtrap shot here.”

EM: “You got more dirt than ball that time.”

AS: “A bit more dirt than ball; here we go again.”

MC: “That looks like a slice to me, Al.”

AS: “There we go! Straight as a die. One more. Miles and miles and miles!”

MC: “Very good, Al. And to answer to Ed’s earlier question about …”

Golfing is also mentioned in ‘Planetes’, and a golf course is one of the tourist attractions that can be built in ‘Moon Tycoon’. In the anime series Planetes, the Moon is treated in part as a waystation for microgravity workers, to get them reacquainted with gravity before heading back to Earth at the end of their contract, and as a hospital for those injured in space so they don’t have to go back into the gravity well of Earth to recover.

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Art by Vik Olliver, from
‘Back to the Moon’ by Kevin Caruso

Rollerblading is very similar to ice skating, a traditional method of longer distance transport in more frigid climes here on Earth. If there are in fact deposits of ice at Lunar poles (unlikely; if it is water then the stuff will probably be more like frozen concrete than sheets of ice), then perhaps someone can set up a starlit ice rink in one of the everdark craters. It may seem a flight of fancy, but it is certainly a romantic notion and one that could be quite profitable in some distant Lunar future. Lest one think that space science is divorced from such Earthly concerns as ice-skating, in one of those serendipitous spinoffs so often found in the space field, NASA science has helped find a new way to edge skates to improve our athletes’ performance, in ‘Polished to Win’.

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From ‘Where the Winds Sleep’ by
Neil Ruzic. artist: Donald G. Lewis

The true pleasure to be found on the Moon is flying. Suggested by Robert Heinlein in his short story ‘The Menace from Earth’ (a great sci-fi novelette, especially for the young ladies), it has been mentioned in any number of subsequent works, including “Where the Winds Sleep”, where the author notes that

“the first men to fly like birds did it exactly five seconds after Dome One at Alphonsus (13.4S, 2.8W) was pressurized on February 10, 2026.”

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Cover: ‘The Menace from Earth’ by
Robert A. Heinlein. Art by John Melo

Heinlein describes a flight undertaken by young Holly Jones, 15 year-old spaceship designer on the Moon:

“I spread my wings, ran a few steps, warped for lift and grabbed air – lifted my feet and was airborne.

I sculled gently and let myself glide toward the air intake at the middle of the floor – the Baby’s Ladder, we call it, because you can ride the updraft clear to the roof, half a mile above, and never move a wing. When I felt it I leaned right, spoiling with right primaries, corrected,and settled in a counterclockwise soaring glide and let it carry me towards the roof…

Even without an updraft all a level glide takes is gentle sculling with your finger tips to maintain air speed; a feeble old lady could do it. The lift comes from differential air pressures but you don’t have to understand it; you just scull a little and the air supports you, as if you were lying in an utterly perfect bed. Sculling keeps you moving forward just like sculling a rowboat…or so I’m told…

But when you’re really flying, you scull with forearms as well as hands and add power with your shoulder muscles. Instead of only the outer quills of your primaries changing pitch (as in gliding), now your primaries and secondaries clear back to the joint warp sharply on each downbeat and recovery; they no longer lift, they force you forward – while your weight is carried by your scapulars, up under your armpits.

So you fly faster, or climb, or both, through controlling your angle of attack with your feet – with the tail surfaces you wear on your feet, I mean.

Oh dear, this sounds complicated and isn’t – you just do it. You fly exactly as a bird flies. Baby birds can learn it and they aren’t very bright. Anyhow, it’s easy as breathing after you learn…and more fun than you can imagine!”

Sounds like it to me. I have a feeling that flying will be the most highly anticipated activity on the Moon. Just as the Moon is carved into the human spirit and culture, so too is the desire to fly, and as technology advanced, so too did the means to do so. It’s not a question of If, but rather When we will fly on the Moon, and that will likely be as soon as there’s a sufficiently large enough pressurized space to try. I’m just wondering what the birds we take with us out into space are going to think about it, and if they’ll start playing with us even more than they do now.

Until such time as there’s a sizable enclosed space, we’ll have to make due with rollerblading on the Moon.

NB: A couple other sites that showed up during research:

Lunar Sports (doc)

Playing Sports on the Moon

Sports on the Moon

“95 Worlds and Counting” takes viewers on an “extreme sports” tour of the moons of the Solar system.

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