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Hispanic Engineer Helps Space Station Crews Stay Fit

Growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carlos Ortiz-Longo liked to take things apart. His father, a medical doctor, encouraged his young son's curiosity, helping him learn the way things work, even teaching him to fix his own bicycle. Today, Ortiz-Longo is still fixing his bicycle. Only this one is more than 200 miles above the Earth, on the International Space Station.

Ortiz-Longo manages a team of more than 30 people who keep the Station's exercise equipment tuned. The Crew Health Care System and Exercise Countermeasures team is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

The team works closely with the astronauts to ensure equipment operates correctly in space and provides maintenance procedures for keeping equipment running. In addition to exercise equipment, they are responsible for ensuring the operation of heart rate monitors, computers for logging in exercise data and other related equipment. They also confer with the center's medical operations team, who design exercise programs for Station crews and decide whether astronauts are healthy enough to participate in spacewalks and other strenuous activities.

Floating around in low-gravity inside the Station can be fun, but the bones and muscles, including the heart, don't get a workout like they do when they toil against the force of Earth's gravity. Therefore, it's imperative the crew has access to fitness equipment. "To stay physically fit, each crew member works out at least 90 minutes, six days a week," Ortiz-Longo said. "The 11 crew members who have lived four-to-six months on the Space Station to date have logged almost 1,000 hours on two different treadmills, and hundreds more hours on the other exercise equipment," he added.

Since the treadmill is kept in a part of the Station built and operated by the Russian Space Federation, any changes to the machine must be coordinated with the Russian flight control team. Ortiz-Longo enjoys working with the Russians and the other partner countries. He is studying Russian. He is already fluent in Spanish, a skill he uses in his spare time to provide math tutoring for Spanish-speaking students who have just come to America.

Ortiz-Longo moved from Puerto Rico to the continental United States in 1983, when he joined NASA as a cooperative education student. "I had been studying mechanical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico campus in Mayaguez," he said. "I saw a flyer saying NASA was visiting the school. I ran over as fast as I could and signed up for an interview," he said.

Five months later, Ortiz-Longo was at JSC, helping with crew training for a Space Shuttle mission. He worked closely with astronauts Owen Garriott and Robert Parker, helping train them for the first Spacelab mission, a science laboratory that was carried aloft numerous times in the Space Shuttle payload bay.

He graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 984 and joined NASA full-time as part of JSC's engineering directorate. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in materials science and engineering from the University of Houston, in 1993 and 2000, respectively. Before joining the Space Station program in 2002, he served as the Space Shuttle Division Chief Engineer for structures, mechanics and materials.

In 1996, he was selected as a finalist in the astronaut selection program. No surprise for a man who considers himself a scientist and an explorer. Exploring space is just the next logical step, a conviction that goes all the way back to that inquisitive childhood.

Media organizations interested in interviewing Ortiz-Longo should contact Julie Burt, Johnson Space Center Public Affairs at: 281/483-5111.

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit: http://www.nasa.gov

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