Here’s a thought experiment for you: imagine you’re charged with the training and physical well-being of a crew of astronauts who will embark on a three-year, round trip mission to mars.  This crew will need to perform routine tasks (not yet fully defined) and respond under emergency conditions in microgravity, on the martian surface (approximately .38th earth gravity) and upon their return to earth.  You’re tasked with pre and post flight training.  But the most challenging portion of your task, of course, is the in-mission training.

Simple, huh?

Well, not so much.

This is an unimaginably complicated issue.  Not only from a human physiology and engineering perspective, but also from a bureaucratic management and cultural perspective.

During the time that TTP was in rebuild, I was asked to take part in the Blue Sky summit in Pensacola, Florida.  The summit was hosted by the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), and was attended by both NASA “insiders” and a few select “outsiders” to, essentially, ponder the thought experiment posed above.  I personally found my way to Blue Sky after having met IHMC founder and CEO Ken Ford at AHS2014 last summer in Berkeley.

A bit of background: I wrote this post prior to the AHS2014 event, and this one following.  And below is the clip of the actual presentation.

Note that 20 minutes is not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface of this very complicated problem.  Also note that my posts and the presentation itself is from an “outside the box” point of view.  There’s much engineering and mission-specific information that I’m not privy to.  Which is a good position to be in when brainstorming, as it puts one in the “yes, and” vs the “no, but” mindset.  Essentially, I’m too ignorant of the specific minutia not to ask certain questions or propose certain countermeasures.

Also, here’s a quick Blue Sky recap interview with Carl Lanore, of Superhuman radio.  Michelle and I also talk about the upcoming Paleo f(x) event in that episode.  Which is a perfect segue, as the only difference between modern life on earth and the extremes of space travel, vis-a-vis, environmental mismatch, is in degree of magnitude.

Some take aways from my time at Blue Sky:

  • NASA is doing a lot of things right, but there’s much room for improvement
  • the overall Zeitgeist of NASA as it pertains to diet and health is, not surprisingly, very similar to that of the US government and mainstream thought.
  • there is openness to change, but I’m not sure NASA (as an entity) is at a point yet to really, really question some underlying presuppositions.  And sacrificing some of these sacred cows is going to have to be a must going forward.

And what are those presuppositions / sacred cows that need to be challenged?  Well, I’ll leave diet alone for now (I think we know where I’d go with that), and concentrate on health and, in particular, the maintenance of muscle and bone mass.

  •  an over reliance on VO2 max as an indicator of physical “readiness”.   I’m not implying that VO2 should be neglected, but there are better “bang for the buck” options for achieving that (even under the extreme engineering constraints).  Re-engineered versa climbers and rowers come to mind, utilizing unique fly-wheel designs.  There are better potential tools than treadmills and stationary bikes.
  • an under appreciation for the vital importance of eccentric strength training.  In my mind, when I ask what unequivocally has to be present in a training program, this is it.  Unless that foundation is present, nothing else is going to matter.  Not VO2 max, not vestibular disturbance, nothing.  Accomplishing this should be priority one, from an engineering standpoint.
  • What are the physical attributes selected for in potential astronaut candidates?  It seems as if (from the outside looking in), if there are any biases, it’s precisely toward the individual characteristics we don’t want: endurance-leaning ectomorphs.   Just as in sport, the nature of the event ought to select the competitor.  Candidates ought to be selected (in part), on their ability to naturally cultivate and maintain muscle mass.   We’re not going to mars to compete in the intergalactic 10k, nor will that be a requirement upon re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.  The ability to squat and lift something overhead will trump anything even hinting at the need for a manageable VO2 capacity.
  • in fact, the entire Kenneth Cooper, “running equates to health” mentality is going to have to be completely scrubbed from the program if progress is going to be made.  Scrubbed from both from the administrators, and from the ranks of potential astronauts.  Future astronauts are going to have to start being a lot more like (in a physiological and psychological [as it pertains to fitness] sense) Rich Froning than Kenesia Bekele.
  • the idea that anabolics, at any dose, are “dangerous”.
  • I know I said I wouldn’t delve into the diet side of things, but a Paleo diet is a must, and a ketogenic diet (at least periods thereof) is going to be a necessity.
Jotting notes at the Blue Sky event
Jotting notes at the Blue Sky event, Pensacola

So outside of the box thinking on these issues is for sure required if progress is going to be made.  And this is hardly an exhaustive list.  But that think-ering can’t all be pie-in-the-sky.  We have to first get in the box to find out what we’re up against. And it’s going to require a special subset of minds to be able to do just that: operate within the box, without being blinded and limited to in the box thinking.  “Fitness” is relative to the task at hand; also, it should not be bound by what defines the normal population, but by what defines athletes.

Shifting gears. I’ll leave you with a few things: first, this spot-on piece, from Voice & Exit (another fine, Austin-based event): How Networks Bring Down Experts (The Paleo Example). I saw incredible potential for this way of thinking at Blue Sky; really, a potential paradigm shift in NASA’s approach to problem solving.   I can only hope that it continues.

Second: one of the better Crossfit critiques I have ever come across.  Tim Ferriss interviews Kelly Starett in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Crossfit.

And then there’s this article I wrote for they guys at Barbell Shrugged: Boost Your Strength with Eccentric Training.  The Barbell Shrugged gang will once again be knocking out numerous podcast episodes from Paleo f(x).  AND, Barbell Shrugged’s Mike Bledsoe will be part of the Shamanism: the Ayahuasca Chronicles panel at this year’s Paleo f(x) event.  Ought to be interesting!


In health, fitness and Ancestral Wellness –


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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