Catching up on your rest, for science
The European Space Agency (ESA) is doing its space research groundwork to learn more about weightlessness and human health, in particular for women astronauts. The sleep study will improve space flight safety, as well as help the medical profession treat bedridden patients.
Europe’s leading space agency, the ESA, is looking for female candidates to participate in a two-month sleep study. The main focus of the study will be to provide valuable simulation data on the effects of space flight on women astronauts, in particular.
|What do space flight and bedridden patients have in common?|
The Women International Space Simulation for Exploration (WISE) study, which is due to start on 22 February of next year, sent out a call for subjects back in August. Over 700 women answered the call but, according to the ESA, most of the applications were from France. The agency said it wants to make sure women from all over Europe get the chance to participate in the WISE study, and so the agency has kept the door open for women from other countries to apply.
“WISE offers European women a unique opportunity to be part of space research and human space flight in Europe,” the ESA said in a statement. The study is a joint exercise between itself, the French space agency (CNES), the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). WISE will be carried out by the French Institute of Medicine and Space Physiology (Medes) at its clinical research facility in Rangueil hospital in Toulouse, France.
(Wo)manned space flight
To simulate the physiological effects of long-term weightlessness experienced by astronauts, WISE will need 24 women to remain in bed with their heads slightly tilted at six degrees below the horizontal for 60 days. The study will assess the roles of nutrition and physical exercise in countering the adverse effects of prolonged gravitational unloading during bed rest.
The women will be divided into three groups. One will be the control group receiving no extra stimulus over the course of the 60-day bed rest period. The second will be put through an exercise programme while in bed during this time. The third group will receive nutritional supplements over the 60 days. For the three weeks prior to the two-month test, the human guinea pigs will be the source of what ESA calls baseline data. In the 20 days that follow, they will undergo similar tests to compare with the baseline information.
The study will analyse muscle condition, blood parameters, cardiovascular condition, and assess changes in immune system, bone formation and psychological well-being. Everything to do with the investigation, says the ESA, complies with relevant French and international laws governing such tests.
The study’s findings will help ESA plan future long-stay human space missions. This research will also have clinical significance on Earth, possibly improving bedridden patients’ recovery. In addition, “studying the early effects of reduced activity on a molecular level,” notes the ESA, “is expected to provide further evidence of the benefits of regular exercise in the prevention of conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.”
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