What does a dream job sound like to you? Ice cream taster, panda nanny, and Netflix tagger must rank high on the list.
How about being paid to spend your days reading books and watching movies? Scientists at NASA have offered 24 volunteers cash to do just that for 60 days straight at a facility in Cologne, Germany.
There is only one catch. The lucky participants (12 male and 12 female) are required to perform all tasks lying down in a cot specifically designed for this very purpose. And yes, that includes all bathroom activities.
The goal of this experiment – the first of its kind to be undertaken in partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) – is to find out how astronauts may be affected by the gravity conditions of space travel during longer-term orbital missions.
The 60-day investigation began on Monday, March 25, meaning the bedbound volunteers have a further 57 days to go (excluding rehabilitation time).
During the experiment, participants are required to lie down in a cot propped up on a gentle incline designed to prevent blood from accumulating in the extremities. Meanwhile, researchers will monitor for any changes. At the same time, they will assess the ways diet and exercise can affect their physical deterioration.
The team behind the study have planned various tests to examine cardiovascular function, balance and muscle strength, metabolism, cognitive performance, and more.
Once a day, some of the volunteers will also be required to spend time in the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) short-arm centrifuge to test the effect of artificial (or rotational) gravity. In the centrifuge, they will be spun around to try and push the blood back into the extremities.
The researchers hope this experiment will allow them to work out how exactly this spinning affects the volunteers' physical deterioration.
Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) maintain a balanced diet plan and spend 2.5 hours every day exercising in order to mitigate the effects of microgravity as much as possible. But it's thought that including a session of artificial gravity could be useful in longer-term space missions.
As Jennifer Ngo-Anh, ESA team leader for research, said in a statement: "To make these missions possible, various risks to astronaut health must be minimized. This study allows us to address the issue of muscular atrophy caused by weightlessness, but also other stressors such as cosmic radiation, isolation and spatial restrictions."
It's not the first time scientists have paid large sums of cash to people to lie in bed. In 2017, the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology (Medes) in Toulouse, France, offered €16,000 ($17,066) to volunteers prepared to commit to a two-month period of bed rest for a similar experiment.