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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Space jobs in bed
Bed Esa
Nice work - if you can get it
Fourteen candidates have been selected for a difficult job - they will spend the next three months in bed in a scientific experiment designed to mimic the effects of weightlessness.

The aim of the French study is to see what happens to the human body during long space flights.

The guinea pigs are all men aged between 29 and 41, and include several teachers, a postman and a gardener. They start work on Monday and will earn the equivalent of 7,500 - essentially for doing absolutely nothing.

The only requirement is that they lie on a bed in a laboratory and undergo an array of medical and psychological tests at regular intervals.

Electronic imaging

Experts want to understand the effects of weightlessness on astronauts visiting the International Space Station. It has already been learnt from the long-stay missions on the Russian Mir platform that life in zero gravity can cause muscles to atrophy, make bones porous and disrupt the blood circulation.

It's a smart way to spend three months in bed

Benny Elmann-Larsen, Esa project manager
One of the project co-ordinators, Anne Pavy-Le Traon, said the experiment would use electronic imaging to get a better idea of how these problems developed.

"What we want to do is to study these phenomena very closely so that we can devise medication or physical exercises so that astronauts can nip a problem in the bud," she said.

To mimic the environment of space, the volunteers' beds will be inclined, putting their heads below the level of their feet. The participants are allowed to roll over on to their stomachs to eat, but are not allowed to sit up.

Writing theses

If it sounds distinctly uncomfortable, another of the project's scientists, Benny Elmann-Larsen, a project manager at the European Space Agency (Esa), said there were compensations.

"They have a TV in each room, we have a little library here, they can also order books; some of them will be writing theses - things like that," he told the BBC.

"It's a smart way to spend three months in bed. They will have access to computers. The observant listener will say 'how do they use a keyboard?' Well, actually, you can do that while you lie on your belly, the same way as you eat."

Some will have to do leg exercises every day on a flywheel-type device that space scientists believe could help counteract the bone and muscle problems. A daily massage is also available.

Inevitably, however, one or two of the volunteers will drop out before the experiment is up.

"We have carried similar tests over a six-week period and our experience with these indicates we will have quite a few problems," Anne Pavey-Le Traon said.

The bed-rest study is being conducted at the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology (Medes) in Toulouse. Esa's partners in the research are the French space agency (CNES) and the Japanese space agency (Nasda).

See also:

04 May 00 | Health
Astronauts face bone danger
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