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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Women wanted for space age tests
US space shuttle commander Eileen Collins
Women have flown in space, but there is a shortage of data on them
Wanted: 24 women to spend 60 days in bed at a crooked angle, their every movement scrutinised by video.

No, this is not the latest reality TV programme, but a hi-tech research project conducted by scientists at the European Space Agency.

They want to anticipate the medical problems that may arise as space missions go further and last longer.

Volunteers will be paid 15,200 euros (10,000) to spend two months on a bed tilted backwards at a six degree angle.

They will be expected to live in isolation in the MEDES medical research centre in Toulouse in France for 101 days in total, including three weeks at either end of the "bed-rest".

Woman, 25-40 years old
Fluent in English and/or French
Good health, moderate fitness
Not over or under-weight
Source: Medes
The experiment is designed to replicate weightlessness. Similar tests have been carried out on men, but scientists are short of data on women.

The successful candidates will be between 25 and 40, of good health and fitness and fluent in English or French.

Motivation is important, says Peter Jost, the European Space Agency (ESA) scientist leading the experiment.

"A hundred and one days is of course very difficult," he told BBC News Online.

The guinea-pigs are allowed books, TV, music and internet access, but the only face-to-face contact they have will be with doctors overseeing the experiment.

"People miss family, friends and children," he said.

Besides the physical effects - a swollen face, blocked nose, twinges and aches, muscle wastage and loss of bone mass - the experiments will be mentally very tough, Mr Jost says.

Psychological tests

"But on the other hand, people are motivated because they are contributing to space science. Some are very enthusiastic - they may be amateur astronomers or interested in space flight."

He said it was a "good opportunity to get involved" in a space programme.

Plenty of people are obviously convinced. The ESA says more than 50 people applied within two days of the recruitment campaign being launched.

The selection procedure begins with a 17-page questionnaire, before a medical examination, blood tests, and interview, followed by a psychological assessment to make sure the candidate can stay the course.

The 24 successful candidates will begin the experiment in Toulouse in January.

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