The European Space Agency will pay volunteers £12,500 to lie down in bed for two months to test the effects of space travel on the human body.
The study simulates aspects of spaceflight by placing volunteers in bed for long periods of time with their dropped to a six degree angle.
It involves two groups of people staying in bed for 60 days, and will be carried out by two different teams of researchers working in France and Slovenia.
It’s not just lying down though, one shoulder has to touch the bed at all times – even when eating, going to the toilet and washing throughout the two months.
Volunteers will also be put spun in a centrifuge to replicate the effects of ‘artificial gravity’ on the body – both while lying down and exercising after the bedrest.
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Throughout the study participants eat all their meals in bed as they are not allowed to get up for the entirety of the five day study
ESA is looking for a total of 48 volunteers from a mix of men and women to take part and they will be split into four groups – two going to Slovenia and two in France.
Scientists running the study say it sounds appealing but caution the pleasure soon wears off thanks to regular tests and questions from researchers.
‘We get many requests to be a volunteer for these studies but they are no joke, lying in bed sounds fun but the pleasure wears off very quickly,’ said Jennifer Ngo-Anh.
‘We constantly salute the volunteers that sacrifice their daily lives for the benefit of human exploration.’
Volunteers are able to watch television and play games during the course of the studies – some of which involve water beds and others a traditional bed
A range of organisations and researchers are able to bid for access to data from the study, or to have their own specific tests carried out on volunteers.
The results from this type of research don’t just go to help people leaving the planet and spending time in space, but also those bedridden on Earth for long periods.
In weightlessness, astronauts’ bodies lose muscle and bone density, eyes change, fluids shift to the brain and more.
Finding ways to stay healthy in orbit is a large part of human spaceflight research and the ‘bedrest’ studies are part of that process.
‘The more test subjects the better, but sending people into space is expensive and hard,’ ESA said.
There are three sites used by ESA for spaceflight bedrest studies – one in France, one in Germany and a new one in Slovenia.
The Slovenia site is at a higher altitude with less atmospheric pressure, so will be used in part for research into future lunar habitation.
FACTS ABOUT THE BEDREST STUDY
Strict head down tilt of -6° throughout the 60 days in bed
Two campaigns of 12 subjects each, 24 subjects in total at each site
Balanced gender distribution
- Head down tilt (control group)
- Head down tilt and daily artificial gravity
- Head down tilt, daily artificial gravity and exercise on bike ergometer
The difference between the two is that in the French study they will be in a normobaric, normoxic environment.
In Slovenia they will be in a normobaric, hypoxic environment
‘The goal is to definitively test measures that reduce the unwanted effects of living in weightlessness,’ said ESA science coordinator Angelique Van Ombergen.
‘We have a long history at ESA of conducting bedrest studies and this round will put all our knowledge gained towards fine-tuning and working out the best techniques.’
The centres, particularly the higher-altitude facility in Slovenia, allow researchers to tweak environmental conditions, such as oxygen levels in the room.
Testing volunteers in low oxygen levels, or hypoxia, is relevant for future space missions where the confined environment of spacecraft and space habitats could contain less oxygen.
In the centrifuge volunteers will be spun to recreate gravity pulling towards their feet while laying down to see how artificial gravity could be used to counteract some of the changes in the human body during space exploration.
Special exercise machines will be mounted on the centrifuges for the participants to use to test the impact of exercise in artificial gravity environments.
A range of experiments are carried out on the volunteers before, after and during bed rest to find out how their body copes with different conditions. All of the research facilities used by ESA have a centrifuge
Other studies aim to simulate lower oxygen, pure oxygen and different atmosphere environments – replicating what an astronaut might experience in space
The effect of centrifuge spinning alone will be compared to spinning and exercise, and to control groups, to prepare for exploration to the Moon and beyond.
The space agency is also working with the Medes clinic in France to study the impact of ‘dry-immersion’ baths – floating beds – on the female body.
Volunteers are supported and suspended evenly in the tub – mimicking the floating experienced by astronauts on the International Space Station.
They want female volunteers as they have almost no data on the impact the ‘floating’ has on women – but do have data on men.
‘We will collect data to better understand the dry immersion model and how the women react to assess these studies for more extensive investigations in the future,’ said Ngo-Anh from the ESA Human Spaceflight research team.
In the study the head is tilted at 6 degrees below horizontal and a single shoulder must touch the bed at all times, even during washing and eating
They want female volunteers are they have almost no data on the impact the ‘floating’ has on women – but do have data on men
Dry immersion is designed to mimic spaceflight in terms of the monotonous environment, posture-motion limitations and other effects it has on the body.
ESA says this means simulation by dry immersion has great potential to investigate detrimental effects of spaceflight and to design and validate countermeasures against changes occurring in microgravity and hypokinesia.
‘However, to date, no controlled studies have actually compared the same measurements to spaceflight.’
They are looking for 20 all female test subjects to spend five days at the Medes facility in Toulouse France late in 2020.
It’s designed to test and validate the dry immersion model and to get a better understanding of the changes that occur in the body.
WILL HUMANS BE BORN ON THE MOON ‘IN A FEW DECADES’?
Children will be born on the moon ‘in a few decades’, with whole families joining Europe’s lunar colony by 2050, a top space scientist has claimed.
Professor Bernard Foing, ambassador of the European Space Agency-driven ‘Moon Village’ scheme, made the comments at a conference last week.
He said that by 2030, there could be an initial lunar settlement of six to 10 pioneers – scientists, technicians and engineers – which could grow to 100 by 2040.
‘In 2050, you could have a thousand and then… naturally you could envisage to have family’ joining crews there, he told AFP on September 22, 2017.
Speaking at this year’s European Planetary Science Congress in Riga, Latvia, Professor Foing explained how humanity’s moon colonies could quickly expand.
Children will be born on the moon ‘in a few decades’, with whole families joining Europe’s lunar colony by 2050, a top space scientist has claimed. Professor Bernard Foing, ambassador of the Esa-driven ‘Moon Village’ scheme (concept art pictured), made the comments this week
He likened human expansion on the moon to the growth of the railways, when villages grew around train stations, followed by businesses.
Potential moon resources include basalt, a volcanic rock that could be used as a raw material for 3D-printing satellites.
These could be deployed from the moon at a fraction of the cost of a launch from high-gravity Earth.
The moon also houses helium-3, a rare isotope on our planet, that could theoretically be used to generate cleaner, safer nuclear energy for Earth.
One of the main targets for moon colonies is water, locked up in ice on the moon’s poles.
Water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, two gases which explode when mixed – providing rocket fuel.