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SPACE TRAVEL
Enough lying about
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Oct 28, 2013


The masks are part of a system to estimate energy requirements. They measure how much oxygen is consumed and how much carbon dioxide is exhaled by the volunteers. These measurements allow scientists to get an idea of the relationship between food, the lungs and the energy consumption when at rest. The data are needed for an experiment in this ESA bedrest study held in Toulouse, France, in cooperation with the French space agency, CNES.

The University of Bonn is interested in seeing if a high-protein, high-salt diet combined with exercise could combat bone and muscle loss and insulin insensitivity. Our bodies adapt to long periods spent lying in bed tilted 6 below the horizontal as if they were flying in weightlessness. Muscles and bones waste away and when a mission or bedrest campaign ends, the body needs many days to return to form. Studying this process on bedrest volunteers is a lot cheaper and easier than collecting information on astronauts.

Finding ways to counteract negative effects to spaceflight is important for astronauts on long-duration missions as well as bedridden people on Earth. Image courtesy CNES-E. Grimault, 2013.

ESA's volunteers recently finished their third and last session lying in bed in the interest of spaceflight and science. They can return to their normal lives after spending their last 21 days in bed with their feet up - once their bodies have recuperated from the experience.

When astronauts return from a long flight they can need days for their bodies to recuperate from the effects of living in weightlessness. Bedrest studies recreate some aspects of spaceflight to allow scientists to probe how their bodies react and test methods for keeping future astronauts fit and healthy.

This latest study, held in Toulouse, France, tested a high-protein diet and an exercise routine that involves pushing the volunteers down onto vibrating plates while doing upside-down squats.

Resting in bed and getting paid for it might sound like an ideal job, but bedrest puts a huge strain on the participants as they submit themselves to days of monotony, constant tests and a strict diet without being allowed to get up for a walk, fresh air, a shower or even the toilet.

"The first days of each session were the worst," says Marc Marenco. "The body needs to adapt and I had migraines and backaches."

In return, the 'pillownauts' can feel proud of their contribution to the science of human space exploration as well as helping bedridden people on Earth.

"We are a reference for many articles, I think the data will help scientists move a step further in their research," explains Daniel Fandino, who works in a bar when not lying down.

Just like real astronauts, the pillownauts had to spend time readjusting to upright life in Earth's gravity as well as finishing tests before they could return to normal life.

Researchers will now study the data from the experiments. The study was organised by ESA in cooperation with France's CNES space agency and run at the MEDES clinical research facility in Toulouse.

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