Skipping on the Moon – fun maybe, but is it efficient?

History has shown* that astronauts, or more accurately lunarnauts, often like to skip about when they’re on the Moon. But, fun though it might seem, is skipping (in reduced gravity situations) an efficient way to get around?

Research teams from the Laboratory of Physiomechanics of Locomotion, Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, Italy, and PDU Biomechanics, Centro Universitario de Paysandú, Universidad de la República, Uruguay, have – for the first time – performed experiments to find out.

In the absence of a convenient low-gravity environment, they instead used earthbound skippers who were supported by bungee-jumping rubber cords to see how this “almost dismissed gait” stacked up against more everyday gaits such as walking and running.

“From a metabolic perspective, our results show that bouncing gaits benefit in low gravity more than walking, and that skipping reports the highest gain in cost reduction, reaching values for terrestrial walking. This could partly explain astronauts’ choice during Apollo 14 and 17 missions of skipping gait while moving on the Moon.”

The researchers predict that skipping will be useful if lunarnauts ever return to the Moon.

“It is likely that skipping will be used also for steering and moving in circles on the lunar surface, as it is an asymmetrical gait that quadrupeds deterministically use to turn (in the direction of the leading limb of the front pair first, then followed by the hindlimbs), as observable in show jumping competition.”

See: Skipping vs. running as the bipedal gait of choice in hypogravity in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Volume 119, Issue 1, 2015

* Notes:

[1] A supplementary video, from which the still above is taken, is available here in .mov format.

[2] One of the co-authors of this new study, Alberto E. Minetti, co-won the 2013 Ig Nobel Physics Prize for a paper about running on water on the Moon:

[3] And another winner of the same prize, Nadia Dominici, will be discussing aspects of the running-on-water-on-the-Moon project at the Ig Nobel show next week at EPLF, in Lausanne, Switzerland (March 27th, 2018).