NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is looking to pay volunteers $10,000 to lie in bed for 70 days in order to study the effects of “microgravity” on the human body, according to a story published Monday in the Daily Mail. Simply put, microgravity is a very small force of gravity that makes astronauts bounce around seemingly weightlessly in space. It's also the state of the body when it’s in freefall. Since astronauts spend months at a time in space, scientists are continually studying how microgravity affects the human body.
The experiment is twofold: After participants are screened for health (they must be between the ages of 24 and 55 and can’t smoke, take medications, use hormones or be pregnant or menopausal), they move into the Johnson Space Center for two weeks; there, they carry out daily activities so that scientists can observe their bodies in normal conditions.
Then they move to NASA’s Flight Analogs Research Unit (FARU) at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, where they lie in a bed for 70 days with their body positioned so that they're tilted downward (head lower than feet), which mimics the physiological effects of microgravity.
Although NASA didn’t respond to Yahoo Shine’s requests for comment, photographs of study subjects portray them playing instruments and video games, surfing the Internet, reading magazines, and eating and drinking. Beds are also positioned side-by-side so that subjects can interact. Getting out of bed isn’t permitted, except when scientists test the body's responses.
Next comes the recovery period. For the following two weeks, people are allowed to stand up and slowly move around the facility and resume normal activity.
“Having people lie in bed for 70 days is a fairly easy way to study the effects of microgravity on the human body without actually sending people to space,” Ben Burress, staff astronomer at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California, tells Yahoo Shine. “When the body is in microgravity, it’s in freefall, similar to the feeling you get when you skydive or ride to the top of a roller coaster — that brief moment when you begin to fall. That feeling can’t be created by standing, sitting, or lying down, so scientists adjust the body into a tilt that tricks the body into thinking it’s in freefall.”
Unsurprisingly, manipulating your body into such an awkward position can cause side effects. Because there’s a lack of gravity distributing fluids throughout the body, they settle in the face, causing bloating. Also, people tend to grow slightly taller because their spines are no longer compressed by gravity, and bones lose density and become brittle from lack of use. “It's unclear how these participants use the bathroom, but in space, astronauts use a suction device,” says Burress.
If it sounds appealing, you can sign up. But no worries if you don't qualify. NASA has a history of reaching out to the public for studying the cosmos. Back in 2007, in order to test whether humans could stay awake long enough to function on Mars (which has a 24.65-hour day), NASA added an hour to people's 24-hour day by exposing them to super bright lights for one month.