SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
What if sleeping on the job wasn't a firing offense but was actually your job? NASA and the European Space Agency want to pay you almost $20,000 to do just that in Cologne, Germany. You'd be helping them study how the body adapts to weightlessness - catch is you have to stay in bed 24/7 for two months straight. That means no getting up for bathroom breaks, bathing or meals. If you're still interested, you may want to talk to Jennifer Ngo-Anh. She's team leader in human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency. And she joins us on the line from near Amsterdam.
Jennifer, welcome to the program.
JENNIFER NGO-ANH: What a nice introduction (laughter).
PFEIFFER: (Laughter) So as I understand it, people would eat, they would drink, they would exercise, even use the bathroom lying in bed, much of that time with their head tilted down six degrees. Is that what this looks like for two months?
NGO-ANH: That is correct. When volunteers lie in bed with their heads tilted roughly six degrees below the horizontal, then a lot of the effects of - that spaceflight has on the human body can be simulated or being reproduced. It is not to annoy volunteers, but it is actually to test countermeasures.
PFEIFFER: So basically, lying in bed for a long time kind of mimics weightlessness?
NGO-ANH: Yes. It's a - it's an excellent model for us to study how the human body reacts to being exposed to weightlessness.
PFEIFFER: And what's the goal of the study? What do you hope to learn and then apply?
NGO-ANH: We're testing artificial gravity as a countermeasure. So volunteers will be exposed to artificial gravity a couple of minutes or half an hour in total per day. If this bedrest study shows that - or confirms this, then we may recommend artificial gravity as a potential countermeasure for future spaceflight missions. And they can then look into how to actually implement that onboard a space station be it via a short arm human centrifuge within the spacecraft or be it by designing a spacecraft that rotates.
PFEIFFER: You mentioned a centrifuge. I understand that part of this study involves the study subjects being spun around in a centrifuge. Why does that have to happen?
NGO-ANH: So when the volunteers are spun in the centrifuge, the fluids within the human body are propelled towards the head. And that counteracts some of the effects that we see when astronauts are in weightlessness.
PFEIFFER: So after being up in space for so long, the fluids get distributed incorrectly. Is that what happens?
PFEIFFER: How do you get exercise while you're bed-bound? And is it even possible to get any cardio activity?
NGO-ANH: It is possible for volunteers to conduct exercise. We have tested everything from jumping in bed to cycling in bed. And that is through the use of - yeah - clever exercise devices that can be mounted onto the beds.
PFEIFFER: You know, the idea of getting paid to rest sounds great at first. But then as you start to learn the details and realize how confined you are, it starts to sound a lot less appealing. So who would want to do this?
NGO-ANH: A lot of people are intrigued about the idea of contributing to advance knowledge that helps us to really have humans live and work in space for extended periods of time.
PFEIFFER: Jennifer Ngo-Anh is with the European Space Agency.
Jennifer, thanks for talking with us.
NGO-ANH: Sure. You're very welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUTIFUL DREAMER")
ROY ORBISON: (Singing) Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me.
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