Astronaut speaks at Koester Pavilion

Staff report

TROY — After two missions to the International Space Station on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, Col. Greg Johnson can attest it’s initially not easy to get one’s feet back on the ground.

Johnson, who served as pilot on Endeavour missions in 2008 and 2011, described life as an astronaut including dealing with weightlessness during a July 16 program at Upper Valley Medical Center’s Koester Pavilion.

The appearance was part of the introduction of an Alter-G antigravity treadmill now in use at Koester Pavilion. The equipment was purchased by the UVMC Foundation earlier this year.

The Alter-G treadmill was designed by NASA to mimic weightlessness and is used by astronauts as they adjust to the Earth’s gravity following time in the weightlessness of space. Johnson said astronauts gradually return to their earthly skills but aren’t allowed to engage in tasks such as driving for a couple of days.

The treadmill is used at Koester to help seniors recover from surgery, according to Kristy Osting, Koester admissions/marketing director.

“It allows weightlessness to the patient to be able to walk, when they may or may not have been able to do otherwise,” Osting said.

Amy Kentner, Koester administrator, approached the UVMC Foundation for potential funding for the equipment last year.

“Amy was very enthusiastic about it and really felt that Koester could make a difference in the lives of their rehab patients with this machine,” said Kathie Scarbrough, president of the UVMC Foundation.

The UVMC Foundation Board agreed to support the Alter-G purchase after seeing how it works, Scarbrough said. “The NASA-developed technology is very exciting, and our board was impressed with it and its potential,” she said. Funding came from the Foundation’s Torrence Funds, which are dedicated to rehabilitation and long-term care needs.

“The rehab patients who go to long-term care are not able to handle the more intensive program offered at the hospital inpatient rehab facility,” Scarbrough said. “So the Alter-G really helps give patients the boost they need. It keeps them from feeling like they are going to fall so they can concentrate on getting the exercise their muscles need to build back their strength and get back as much of their function as possible.”

During the presentation at Koester, attendees from preschoolers to those in their 90s took a ride into space with Johnson and his fellow astronauts via a video presentation. Johnson, who graduated from Park Hills High School in Fairborn, was an Air Force pilot when he joined the astronaut corps. He said his inspiration for becoming an astronaut was Ohio’s Neil Armstrong, the first man walk on the moon.

Among the thrills of space is being able to see things you can’t see on Earth, Johnson said. Among his treasures is a photo of his grandparents’ house in Traverse City, Michigan, that he took from space.

He left NASA two years ago and now is president/executive of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, a nonprofit that coordinates Space Station work in what he called a new era of space research following the end of the shuttle program. The Space Station work remains vital, Johnson said, because of its focus on improving life on earth.

“There is so much we can learn up there,” he said.

Staff report

This article was submitted by Premier Health.

This article was submitted by Premier Health.