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Breathe Easy: New Portable Unit for Space Missions

Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA). Credit: NASA

Oxygen…you can’t live without it. And you can’t leave Earth without it either.

On long duration space travel, astronauts need to carry out rigorous exercise to help combat the effects of microgravity on the body.

NASA engineers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio have come up with a new device to monitor the oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production rates when crews are exercising during lengthy missions.

It’s called the Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis – or PUMA for short.

PUMA is a portable unit designed to give the crew the ability to move around the spacecraft without being tethered to a large immovable unit.

PUMA measures six components to evaluate metabolic function: oxygen and carbon dioxide partial pressure, volume flow rate, heart rate, and gas pressure and temperature.

From those measurements, PUMA can compute the oxygen uptake, carbon dioxide output and minute ventilation (average expired gas flow rate).

A small, embedded computer takes readings of each sensor and relays the data wirelessly to a remote computer via Bluetooth.

Spearheading the work on the device is NASA engineer Dan Dietrich and a team of scientists at Glenn Research Center.

By Leonard David

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