Imagine a scenario where you get to lounge in bed all day and watch as much television, play as many video games or read as many books as you want. If that is not awesome enough, here is the icing on the cake - You even get paid for doing that and not just a tiny amount, but an astounding $18,000 USD, for the duration of the fifteen week study!
What's even more astonishing is that this 'job' is not being offered by a gaming company to test the endurance limit of their fans, but by US Space Agency NASA to test the effects of micro gravity on the human body. What the study is trying to accomplish is simulate the effects of long-duration space flights such as the one being planned to Mars.
One of the biggest side effects of space travel is loss of muscle and bone density due to the low amount energy that astronauts need to exert when they are floating around in a gravity free environment. By asking subjects to lay in beds and do very little, the researchers are trying to emulate that same environment. In order to simulate the conditions as close to what astronauts face as possible, the beds, showers and bathrooms are tilted head down at a six-degree angle so that the fluids remain in the upper parts of the body. They are also required to adhere to the astronaut's time schedule by staying awake for sixteen hours and sleeping for eight.
Also carefully monitored, are the meals. This unfortunately means no junk food is allowed. Instead, the subjects have to eat a balanced isocaloric diet specially prepared for them to ensure that they neither lose nor gain weight during this endeavor. Even the short exercises allowed have to be done lying in bed using specially modified equipment.
If you think only couch potatoes can qualify for the job, think again! According to the researchers the subjects have be really healthy and super fit and though that may sound like an oxymoron, NASA says that they are looking for people that have the physical and psychological strength of the astronaut they are emulating. This is why in order to qualify the applicants have to undergo rigorous physical exams, as well as, psychological evaluations.
Though the bed study spans fifteen weeks, the first 10-12 days is a pre-testing period where the ground 'astronauts' are allowed to move around the facility freely. After that comes the 70 days of bed rest and then a couple of weeks to recover from all the resting. During this time, the testers undergo rehabilitation exercises to ensure that they are strong enough to at least resume their day-to-day activities when they leave the facility. Given that they do lose between 1-2% of bone density, full recovery takes a little longer.
And while this seemingly easy way to make money has just come to the world's attention in the last few weeks, NASA's Flight Analog Research Unit in Galveston, Texas has been conducting the study since 2004 and already has 36 graduates and 8 that flunked out for various reasons. Five more are currently putting their lounging skills to test! As to why so many people would even put themselves through what sounds like torture? While for some it is the money, for most it is because they believe they are doing their share in helping out astronauts and future space travel.
Resources: Wired.com,Forbes,com, telegraph.co.uk