Spaceflight Bed Rest Study Completed By Volunteer Pillownauts
October 23, 2013

ESA Volunteers End Bed Rest Study After 21 Days

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Volunteers recently finished their third and last session of bed rest studies for the European Space Agency (ESA) and can now return to their normal lives – once their bodies have recuperated from the experience. The volunteers spent 21 days in bed with their feet up in the interest of spaceflight and science.

Astronauts sometimes need days to recuperate from the effects of living in weightlessness after returning from a long flight. Bed rest studies such as these allow researchers to recreate some aspects of spaceflight to probe how bodies react and to test methods for keeping future astronauts fit and healthy.

Held in Toulouse, France, this latest bed rest study tested a high-protein diet and an exercise routine that involved pushing the volunteers down onto vibrating plates while doing upside-down squats.

For some of us, getting paid to stay in bed might seem like the perfect job. Bed rest, however, puts a huge strain on the participants as they submit themselves to days of monotony, constant tests and a strict diet. The hardest part is not 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,” said Marc Marenco. “The body needs to adapt and I had migraines and backaches."

The "pillownauts" can feel proud of their contribution to the science of spaceflight. The study data will also aid 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,” explained Daniel Fandino, who works in a bar when not lying down.

The pillownauts, just like real astronauts, had to spend time readjusting to upright life in Earth's gravity. They also had to finish tests before returning to their regular daily lives.

ESA researchers will study the data collected from this study, which was organized by ESA in cooperation with France’s CNES space agency and carried out at the MEDES clinical research facility in Toulouse.

redOrbit reported in September that NASA was recruiting for bed rest studies of its own. The NASA study, which will be 70 to 105 days long, is designed to test the conditions that astronauts could experience while traveling in space for an extended period of time.

“NASA hopes to find out what physical changes occur to scientists on these missions and how much body function is required for a person to complete a specific task,” Michelle Castillo of CBS News said. “The information will be used to develop methods that allow astronauts to have an easier time physically acclimating to daily life following space exploration.”

“Since there is no gravity in space, astronauts don’t exert as much effort and might not get the necessary exercise they need to stay in shape,” she added. “Researchers are requiring participants to stay on a slight tilt which is intended to allow fluids to move towards the upper part of the body. That would allow researchers to study cardiovascular symptoms similar to what might be experienced during a space expedition.”

The study will take place at NASA’s Flight Analogs Research Unit (FARU) in Galveston, Texas, where the researchers will collect data about the participants’ bones, muscles, heart and circulatory systems, nervous systems, and nutritional conditions.