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NASA WANTS YOU (To Stay in Bed)

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NASA WANTS YOU (To Stay in Bed)

Who hasn’t dreamed of getting paid for doing nothing? What if you saw a listing for a gig that required you to stay in bed in order to get paid? Well, that’s pretty much what NASA is proposing. To be exact, they’re looking for volunteers willing to lie supine for 70 days and for which they will pay you $18,000. What’s more, you can read, watch movies, play games, use your phone, skype, take online courses, even hold a job, so long as you can perform your duties remotely. You could also finally write that book; you just can’t get out of bed – for 70 days. All this in the service of the space program: helping future astronauts contend with the health hazards particular to long spaceflights.

The main focus of the study is microgravity and its effects on the human body, effects simulated by having test subjects lie in bed for the required period while tilted head-downward at a six-degree angle. Subjects even shower at the same angle in a specially designed gurney. This tilt shifts body fluids to the upper body, approximating cardiovascular activity experienced during space travel. Another factor under scrutiny is the atrophy of muscles and bone density. Because astronauts spend long durations floating in space, they hardly make any effort moving, so their muscles fall out of use. Asides from the effects of atrophy, “pillownauts,” as participants are called, can experience headaches, nausea and other symptoms, and just like astronauts, it can take them weeks to readjust afterwards. This is precisely why NASA runs these studies: to understand changes in physiology in space and the psychological impact on performance, with the aim of developing countermeasures.

Study groups are divided in two sections: exercising and non-exercising, but even the exercisers perform all the pertinent training on special equipment while lying down. For example, squats are done in horizontal position, and there’s even a vertical treadmill.The other group can just watch. Depending which one you’re in, the entire study actually lasts between 97 and 105 days, the longer duration being for the exercisers. At the end of the 70-day prone period, subjects do tasks that astronauts might be required to perform, such as getting out of a vehicle and moving heavy objects a short distance. Testing these conditions while still on Earth saves both time and health by helping prepare and protect astronauts in space.

To spend 70 days in bed, potential subjects need to be very healthy both physically and mentally. Short-listed applicants undergo a rigorous Air Force physical exam, as well as a battery of psychological tests and a ninety-minute interview with a psychologist. Not everyone proves ready for the ostensibly laidback trial at hand. Basically, NASA seeks candidates much on the same caliber as astronauts. One former pillownaut describes how when she first got up after the extended period in bed, her feet hurt like crazy, which is what an astronaut would experience as well. She decided it was worth it for the cause.

Asides from the financial compensation, there are other perks as well: a common area where subjects are wheeled into for socializing and watching television; a library of books and NetFlix account. Meals of course are included – proper ones; not the tubed variety. The $18,000 compensation is paid in 15 weekly instalments of $1,200 each. These 15 weeks include the required pre- and post-testing time. Accommodations are provided in the NASA test facility in Houston, Texas – not a shabby spot for a vacation. Interested? We’ve made it one gravity-free step easier: simply apply here. (If you make it, we’d love to hear from you.)

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