NASA is Sticking 12 Volunteers in Slanted Beds for an Entire Month

Lying in bed all day sounds like the ultimate dream job, but is it really that great? NASA will put 12 volunteers to the test in beds angled downwards to test the effects of slightly more pressure on the head.
Shelby Rogers
Volunteers can have their phones but no visitors. They have to keep their heads tilted at all times. DLR/NASA

Twelve volunteers will spend the next month of their lives in bed for the love of science. However, this isn't a traditional NASA sleep study. The beds of each volunteer will be tilted downwards at a six-degree angle. And the volunteers have to stay there the whole time. No bathroom breaks, no showering, no sitting up to eat or drink. 

These volunteers are part of a NASA study partnering with the German Space Agency's Institute of Aerospace Medicine envihab facility. The study is known as VaPER (VIIP and Psychological envihab Research) and is part of the Flight Analogs Program. Analogs are situations one would have on Earth but produces effects on the body that one would have in space -- mentally, emotionally, and physically.

To add to the angle of the beds, the participants will also breathe in air with 0.5 percent of carbon dioxide. That's quite a bit more than the 0.04 percent that makes up breathable air on Earth. 

In its press statement, NASA noted that the head tilt is to mimic the weightlessness of space. Fluids shift toward the head, and astronauts have noted vision issues and feelings of pressure behind the eyes. These 12 participants will help NASA figure out exactly what happens to the body to cause such vision issues. 


"On October 2, they admitted the first two subjects to begin," said Lisa Spence, Flight Analogs Project Manager. "The next day two more arrived. They will continue this every day until they have admitted all 12."

The participants will come in shifts for two-week baseline tests. This allows the Flight Analogs Project to collect a general sense of starting points for each participant. 

Spending 30 days confined to a bed might seem like the perfect opportunity to binge watch as much Netflix as humanly possible. However, NASA encourages its participants to pursue loftier aspirations. 

"While very structured, the participants’ days may not be as boring as it would seem," the press release said. "Participants are encouraged to set a goal such as learning a new language or taking a class online."

However, if one was to hypothetically decide to watch all of Netflix in a month, she would have very little say as to what type of snacks she got. 

"Blood pressure, heart rate, nutrient absorption, energy expenditure, bone mass and even the participants’ mood will also be monitored," NASA said. "Diet is strictly controlled giving participants little choice as to what or when they eat."

NASA's past sleep studies

NASA is no stranger to unique tests that seem incredibly easy. In both 2014 and 2015, NASA conducted sleep studies confining people to a bed for 70 days. Andrew Iwanicki was one of that study's participants. He wrote about his experience for VICE

"After spending 70 days tilted at a negative-six-degree angle, I had lost about 20 percent of my total blood volume. The standing test simulated the effects on astronauts' cardiovascular systems during spacecraft reentry to Earth or Mars. But it was easy to forget all that because most of the NASA bed-rest study had been, despite my expectations, kind of boring."

Interested in being a NASA test subject? You can still apply for other projects down the road. These studies can include everything from neuroscience to bone and mineral to basic nutrition. 


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