You could categorize this one under bizarre, but it’s totally legit.
NASA is looking for volunteers to just lie in bed for 70 days.
You could get paid a total of about $18,000 for just lying in bed, reading books, playing games on your tablet or phone, skyping with your family and friends, taking online classes – and even go on with your day job if you can get away by working remotely, just until you don’t need to get out of bed for that entire time.
And, for persons with relinquished childhood dreams for being an astronaut, there might be an altruistic element to participating in the project: by doing so, you are actually helping the country to conquer further the final frontier – space. In several years, when astronauts land on Mars, the test subjects might be able to say that they helped them to get there. “Subjects in the study look at it as a way to help,” states Dr.Ronnie Cromwell, senior scientist on the bed rest study. “In that what we eventually do will help astronauts maintain their health while in space.”
While on a call with Houston (always wanted to say that), I could elicit further details from Kelly Humphries, NASA’s news chief, and the two scientists that were involved in the bed rest study.
Here comes the science bit.
The intention of the study is to investigate the effects of microgravity on the human body. This study simulates the effects of long-duration spaceflight by putting test subjects in bed for a period of 70 days. The beds are tilted head-down at an angle of 6-degree. As Dr. Cromwell says, this tilt causes the body liquids to shift to the upper part of the body, sets off cardiovascular events which 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,” describes the doctor.
When the astronauts spend weeks and months floating through the space – they don’t need to use more than one fingertip to drive themselves across the room, therefore their muscles go on vacation – described the atrophy Dr. Cromwell.
NASA calls ‘countermeasures’ the bed rest studies like these, and they are used to minimize the changes that happen to the body during spaceflight and also to enable the return of normal body functions once the astronauts are back.
“Being able to test new ideas on Earth saves invaluable flight time,” claims Joe Neigut, Flight Analog project manager at Johnson Space Center of NASA 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. Actually how it affects the physiology can be applied to everyone on earth.”
Following extended bed rest, the subjects are then put over various exercises, like going on the treadmill or doing squats. Major difference is if the vertical treadmill and squatting are done in a horizontal position.
Or like my ‘rad’ pseudo-nerdy friend would say: #mind-boggling.
Dr. Cromwell explains further, “We also ask them (the 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.”
If you are thinking this might be the ‘dream job’ for that lump that is currently taking up space on your couch, you might be slightly disappointed. “Couch potatoes are not an accurate description for what we are looking. Subjects need to be very healthy,” says Kelly Humphries, NASA’s news chief.
The persons, who are short-listed in the application round, will go through a modified Air Force Class 3 physical, which is an arduous physical exam. Moreover, there is a psychological screening where the candidates fill out a battery of tests, followed by 90 minutes talk with a psychologist.
“We want to make sure we select people who are mentally ready to spend 70 days in bed. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Not every type of person can tolerate an extended time in bed,” says Dr. Cromwell.
“Once they qualify physically and mentally, we do rigorous physical exercises to test muscle strength and aerobics capacity. We want people who have the physical and psychological characteristics of an astronaut. They should be able to do the kind of activities that astronauts do.”
Heather Archuletta is a NASA contractor for the studies program, got her first taste of life at the agency while she was volunteering as a subject in a bed rest study in 2008. “Even when it was sometimes challenging, I tried to remember I was doing this for astronauts, so that we can keep them healthier in space. The day I got up, after being in bed for 54 days (the study was cut short by Hurricane Ike), my feet hurt like crazy walking for the first time! But, I reminded myself, this is what astronauts go through, too. Being a ground analog tester for astronauts is exciting, because you get to experience a lot of the things they do, and you’re also all working with the same doctors. I’ve gotten to meet a couple dozen astronauts now, too.”
For those who are interested in giving the application a whirl, you can do that here.
* The $18,000 compensation breaks down like so: $1,200 per week for a total of 15 weeks. Since the bed rest component of this study is 70 days, NASA requires subjects for pre-testing and post-testing, that brings the entire duration that is required by the test subjects in the test facility in Texas to 15 weeks. Oh and, space food is free!