NASA’s Johnson Space Center made the announcement last week that 12 people are about to spend 30 days reclining in bed. This might sound great to anyone exhausted by the stress of daily life and work, but it isn’t that luxurious. As NASA tests the effects of space travel on astronautshealth, the guinea pigs in the study will have their heads tilted back at a six-degree angle. They will also get to breathe a higher concentration of carbon dioxide, which will produce changes in their bodies similar to those an astronaut experiences in space.

Physical and emotional effects of space travel

NASA has dubbed the bed-rest study VaPER (VIIP and Psychological Envihab Research).

According to NASA, the effects not only apply physically to the participants but also on an emotional level. In their announcement, they said the new studies are hoped to help scientists understand how to keep astronauts safe as they move away from missions in Earth’s lower orbit into the exploration of deep space.

The NASA study is being carried out at the Air and Space Travel Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, Germany, pictured above. NASA has partnered its Human Research Program with the German space agency DLR to analyze and study the effects of the fluid pressure caused to astronauts’ eyes and optic nerves. NASA explained that with the tilt of the participants’ heads, this causes their bodily fluids to shift in the same direction, exactly as would happen in a weightless environment in space.

Some astronauts have experienced vision problems in the past which is linked to this aspect.

Researchers will also be monitoring the participants’ heart rate, blood pressure, energy expenditure, nutrient absorption and bone mass. Rather importantly, they will also monitor the mood of the participants over the lengthy, 30-day period.

More carbon dioxide in air

While humans normally breathe around 0.04 percent carbon dioxide in normal air, the participants in the study will live in an environment where they will breathe 0.5 percent carbon dioxide, which is reportedly 12 times that experienced on Earth. There are reportedly no dangers to this, as NASA explains that astronauts in space vehicles, including the International Space Station, experience levels similar to this and it is still quite safe to inhale.

Living in a tilted position for a month

NASA went on to explain that the participants in the study will be living, eating and even showering in that tilted, head-down position.

Along with the increased carbon dioxide, this position causes their bodies to adapt to the new conditions, exactly as they would in space. Scientists will then use the information gathered from the study to improve astronauts’ experience and health conditions while traveling in space.

While the structured study sounds like it could end up being boring for the participants, NASA says they are encouraging them to set a new goal, like taking an online class or maybe learning a new language. Reportedly the participants will be allowed to use computers and phones during the 30-day study, as long as they remain correctly tilted. This will allow them to keep in touch with family and friends over the period of the study.

According to NASA, the results of the study will help them develop countermeasures to help both astronauts on deep space missions, but also to assist bed-ridden people back here on Earth.