Two months extended to promote space research
(Toulouse) Spend two months lying down to help space research: Volunteers have agreed to stay in bed under surveillance in Toulouse to recreate the absence of gravity and thus help improve the living conditions of astronauts on mission.
“We see ourselves getting thinner day by day at the beginning,” smiles Matthieu, one of the 12 men selected for this experiment, well satisfied with five weeks at the Medes clinic, health subsidiary of the National Center for Space Studies ( CNES). .
The bed of these volunteers, chosen from among 3000 candidates and whose names are not communicated, remains tilted for 60 days at an angle of -6 degrees, the best able to reproduce the effects of weightlessness that the astronauts are exposed to during their stay in space.
“We have entered the space exploration phase. We are really looking to go to the Moon and Mars, it is no longer a fiction and it involves long-distance flights of two to three years,” explains Audrey Bergouignan, from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). to AFP. .
“Exposure to microgravity will affect all physiological systems […] and cause changes that we try to understand and prevent”, specifies this research leader, before adding: “To prevent them, we set up protocols that we test upstream here before we test them in space.
Bicycle and centrifuge
Everything is therefore organized with the aim of keeping the 12 hospitalized patients in bed: almost a hundred people are mobilized to follow them for the duration of the study, from nursing staff to researchers.
“We are in very favorable conditions for bed rest, every time we need something, we just have to call the medical staff”, explains Matthieu, a 39-year-old gardener, whom his girlfriend convinced to try l adventure, paid 18,000 euros (approx. .26,000 Canadian dollars) for three months of on-site presence.
To compare the development of their organism in relation to their physical training, the volunteers are divided into three groups: one performs 30 minutes of recumbent cycling per day, the second is not exposed to any physical activity, while the third must enter the pedals while in a moving human centrifuge.
“The idea is to see if the artificial gravity created by the centrifuge when it turns improves the effects of the physical training of the bike”, specifies Marie-Pierre Bareille, head of the space clinic, to which the study was entrusted by CNES and the European Space Agency (ESA ).
If the results are conclusive, this artificial gravity could be recreated on board long-duration missions in space once the technical limitations have been resolved.
FIFA and Mario Kart
“The challenge, she says, is that the crews are fit and able to work during excursions outside the vehicle” where they may have to perform quite physical tasks.
“During a trip to Mars, astronauts can lose up to 15% of their mass”, states Audrey Bergouignan.
The participants in the experiment take turns, sometimes on a bicycle designed for recumbent pedaling, sometimes in the centrifuge, while laughter breaks out from the caregivers who share their very special daily life.
“I’m not bored, everyone is very nice,” assures Alejandro, a 26-year-old Spanish aeronautical engineer living in Toulouse.
“We are in contact with the other chambers. We organize video game tournaments on Mario Kart or FIFA”, he laughs as he pedals under the supervision of a trainer.
For them, the experience ends with an accompanied return to normal life at the beginning of July, while 12 other volunteers will submit to the same living conditions in 2024.
The clinic selected only men to “limit the variables” between the volunteers, according to organizers, and to achieve the most “homogeneous” results possible.
But the conclusions of the study carried out in Toulouse will not only apply to the space domain. “Knowledge of the hyper-sedentary lifestyle will be useful for everyone to know how the lack of physical activity affects the body”, says Marie-Pierre Bareille, referring to the elderly or suffering from pathologies such as osteoporosis. .