NASA is currently looking for volunteers to lie in bed for 60 days.
That’s right, you could get paid a total of around $100,000 for lying in bed, playing games on your phone, reading books, skyping with your friends and family, taking online classes – and even go on with your day job if you can get away with working remotely, so long as you don’t get out of bed for that entire duration.
And, for those with relinquished childhood dreams about being an astronaut, there may be an altruistic element to participating in the project: in doing so, you’re actually helping the country further conquer the final frontier – space. In a few years, when astronauts land on Mars, test subjects may be able to say they helped get them there.
“Subjects in the study look at it as a way to help,” says Dr Roni Cromwell, senior scientist on the bed rest study. “In that what we eventually do will help astronauts maintain their health while in space.”
On a call with Houston (always wanted to say that), I was able to elicit further details from NASA’s news chief, Kelly Humphries and the two scientists involved in the bed rest study.
Here comes the science bit.
The purpose of the study is to research the effects of microgravity on the human body. The study simulates the effects of long-duration spaceflight by having test subjects lie in beds for the 60 day period. The beds are tilted head-down at a six-degree angle. According to Dr Cromwell, this tilt which causes body fluids to shift to the upper part of the body, sets off cardiovascular events that are similar to what we see in a space flight.
“And by putting someone in bed for a long time, there is also atrophy of the muscle and atrophy of bone density,” she explains.
When astronauts spend weeks and months floating around in space – they don’t need to use more than a fingertip to propel themselves across the room, so their muscles go on vacation – the atrophy described by Dr. Cromwell.
NASA calls bed rest studies such as these ‘countermeasures’, which are used to minimize the changes that occur to the body during spaceflight and to enable the return of normal body functions once back on Earth.
“Being able to test new ideas on Earth saves invaluable flight time,” says Joe Neigut, Flight Analog project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“What the bed rest does to their [test subjects] physiology and how the exercise countermeasures benefits their physiology helps us better prepare and protect astronauts when they are in space. In fact how it affects the physiology can be applied to everyone on earth.”
Dr Cromwell goes on to further explain, “We also ask them [test subjects] to do tasks that astronauts would do when they land on a planetary surface. Simulate getting out of a vehicle. Moving heavy objects at a short distance. This gives us an idea as to their functional capabilities.”
Those who are short-listed in the application round go through a modified Air Force Class Three physical, which is a physical exam.
“We want to make sure we select people who are mentally ready to spend 60 days in bed. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Not every type of person can tolerate an extended time in bed,” says Dr Cromwell.