Do You Have What It Takes to Lie Down for 70 Days?

Get ready for some hard-core rest — NASA needs you!

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Sept. 20, 2013, 10:07 a.m.

NASA is call­ing for test sub­jects in an ex­per­i­ment that could pave the way to send­ing hu­mans to Mars or bey­ond. It’s called the bed-rest study, and it is as ex­treme as it sounds.

If chosen, par­ti­cipants will have to lay on a bed for 70 days, with their feet el­ev­ated slightly high­er than their heads. This sim­u­lates the long-term ef­fects of mi­cro­grav­ity on the hu­man body. The re­search­ers will be able to see how bone dens­ity, muscle at­rophy, and oth­er bod­ily factors change as people stay off their feet for months at a time, just like they would on an in­ter­plan­et­ary mis­sion. But don’t worry, you can go about your nor­mal daily routine, just as long as it is con­fined to the bed — there’s a spe­cial shower, and you can use con­sumer elec­tron­ics (Net­flix must have enough de­cent con­tent for 70 days of con­stant stream­ing, right?) Some sub­jects will even get to use in-bed ex­er­cise equip­ment.

Par­ti­cipants get $18,000 for their time.

So what does it take to en­dure such hard-core rest? Ac­tu­ally, a lot. Sub­jects need to be in very good phys­ic­al con­di­tion and un­der­go psy­cho­lo­gic­al eval­u­ation. The ap­plic­a­tion states that par­ti­cipants must pass a mod­i­fied Air Force Class III med­ic­al stand­ard. The seni­or sci­ent­ist on the study told For­bes, “We want people who have the phys­ic­al and psy­cho­lo­gic­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics of an as­tro­naut,” al­beit a bedrid­den one.

The in­sights to be gained here can be cru­cial for the fu­ture of space­flight. Cur­rently, re­search­ers sug­gest that a 10-month trip to Mars would cause an as­tro­naut to lose 40 per­cent of his or her muscle mass. “On a long voy­age,” re­ports, “a healthy 30- to 50-year-old as­tro­naut could end up with the strength of an 80-year-old.” Something that would be a hindrance when it comes to ac­tu­ally land­ing on the plan­et.

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