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NASA Is Recruiting Women to Stay in Bed for Two Months

The gig pays around $18,500, but this is no dream job

Talk about sleeping on the job. (DLR)
smithsonian.com

There are lots of ways that space enthusiasts can contribute to our understanding of the solar system beyond our planet: You could become an astronaut, of course, or work in engineering, or in technical and administrative support. Or, if years of rigorous academics and hard work aren’t really your thing, you could just stay in bed. According to Kellie B. Gormly of the Washington Post, NASA, the European Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center are looking for women to stay bed-bound for two months as part of a study into the effects of zero-gravity.

Going into space is hard on the body. As soon as astronauts enter weightlessness, their internal fluids shift from the lower to the upper parts of their bodies, which results in a condition called—in NASA’s own words—“puffy-head, bird-legs” syndrome. The longer an astronaut is in space, the more severe the health effects can be. Human bones lose more than one percent of minerals and density for every month outside of Earth’s orbit, and astronauts are also at risk of conditions like atrophying muscles, blood volume loss and cardiovascular deconditioning, which is why they have to be sure to eat well and exercise frequently. If we are going to be sending astronauts into space for long periods of time—as is the plan for future missions to the moon and Mars—scientists need to make sure that these missions can happen safely. And that’s where the bed-ridden volunteers come in.

Constantly lying down simulates how the human body behaves in weightlessness, according to the German Aerospace Center (abbreviated to DLR in German). Participants will spend their days in bed, with their heads at a six-degree tilt to reproduce the displacement of bodily fluids in space. According to Motherboard’s Rob Dozier, the space agencies are offering 16,500 euros, or around $18,500, to the study subjects.

Getting paid to lie around all day might sound like a dream job, but the gig is more challenging than it sounds. Participants have to do everything in bed— “[e]ating, washing, showering, going to the toilet, leisure activities,” the DLR says. Boredom can set in quickly, and “[p]articipants are encouraged to set a goal such as learning a new language or taking a class online,” NASA notes. Their diet will be strictly controlled; treats like pancakes will be served, according to the DLR, but they will be made without additives or artificial sweeteners.

Compounding the unpleasantness, scientists will be poking and prodding to collect data, such as heart rate, bone mass and nutrient absorption. Two-thirds of the study participants will be rotated every day in a “short-arm human centrifuge” at the DLR’s :envihab aerospace medical research facility in Cologne, Germany, where the research is taking place. The goal is to find out whether artificial gravity can prevent or counteract the physiological effects of weightlessness.

The first phase of the study is already underway; according to CNN’s Michelle Lou and Saeed Ahmed 12 men and 12 women started the trial last Tuesday. For the second phase, scientists are seeking women between the ages of 24 and 55, who do not smoke, are a healthy weight and have a working knowledge of German.

But who would want to take part in such an experiment? According to NASA, bed rest studies tend to attract people who are “looking for a change” and can afford to retreat from their lives for several months. Many are eager to support further developments in space exploration.

“If humans ever walk on Mars or live in space for long periods,” NASA says, “it is in part, thanks to the bed rest volunteers.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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