You could file this one under bizarre, but totally legit.
NASA is currently looking for volunteers to lie in bed for 70 days.
Usually at some point during the day (and for some of us, multiple points) we find ourselves wishing we could abandon our responsibilities to return back to our beds to live out the rest of the day under a quiet fortress of blankets. Despite the guilt of chronic laziness, a day in bed sounds pretty relaxing—if only we could financially support ourselves by doing so.
Turns out, NASA might have the answer we’re all looking for—although it might require a little more relaxation than originally imagined. NASA is currently looking for volunteers to participate in their “Bed Rest Studies”, in which participants will have to spend 70 straight days in bed, receiving a $18,000 stipend for the period of aggressive bodily atrophy. Participants are allowed to read books, Skype, play games, as well as use their phones and computers throughout the duration of the study (that means you can still be on Facebook!). Pretty much anything is fair game, so long as you remain in bed, earning a sweet $1,200 per week.
Here comes the science bit.
The purpose of the study is to research the effects of microgravity on the human body. The study simulates the effects of long-duration spaceflight by having test subjects lie in beds for the 70 day period. The beds are tilted head-down at a six-degree angle. According to Dr Cromwell, this tilt which causes body fluids to shift to the upper part of the body, sets off cardiovascular events that 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,” she explains.
When astronauts spend weeks and months floating around in space – they don’t need to use more than a fingertip to propel themselves across the room, so their muscles go on vacation – the atrophy described by Dr. Cromwell.
NASA calls bed rest studies such as these ‘countermeasures’, which are used to minimize the changes that occur to the body during spaceflight and to enable the return of normal body functions once back on Earth.
“Being able to test new ideas on Earth saves invaluable flight time,” says Joe Neigut, Flight Analog project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center 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. In fact how it affects the physiology can be applied to everyone on earth.”
Following extended bed rest, subjects are then put through various exercises, such as going on the treadmill or doing squats. Major difference though – it’s a vertical treadmill and squatting is done in a horizontal position. Wow.
Or as my ‘rad’ pseudo-nerdy friend would say: hashtag mind-boggling.
Dr Cromwell goes on to further explain, “We also ask them [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.”
For the first 13 days for non-exercising subjects and 21 days for exercising subjects, you’re able to move freely (in and out of bed) within the bed rest facility. However, after this period you will be prohibited from leaving the bed for the next 70 days, aside from a few specified tests, where you must lay with your head back and feet up. Throughout the entire duration of the study, you will be subject to bone, muscle and heart tests, as well as tests of your circulatory and nervous systems, your nutritional condition, and your body’s capacity to fight off infections. So is it worth it? Although spending two months in bed would realistically be excruciating, at least you can rest easily knowing you’re making the sacrifice of grueling laziness for the purpose of furthering human space exploration. This is the only time you could claim to have helped send the first astronauts to Mars by doing absolutely nothing but sitting on your ass.
Well, it’s not exactly chilling out and relaxing. According to Forbes, “Those who are short-listed in the application round go through a modified Air Force Class Three physical, which is a rigorous physical exam. In addition, there is a psychological screening in which subject candidates fill out a battery of tests, followed by ninety minutes one on one with a psychologist.”
Also, you have to be mentally prepared for the challenge that lies ahead.
“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, who is the senior scientist on the bed rest study whom Forbes interviewed.
“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.”
Afterthought: You’re probably wondering how it all works out with taking a trip to the bathroom while on extended bed rest, right? NASA has it covered. In order to ensure that test subjects can remain at a six-degree head tilt at all times, they are able to shower in a specially modified shower gurney.