Would you spend a year in bed?

Illustration for article titled Would you spend a year in bed?

Do you want the world to colonize space? Good. Now do you want it enough to spend an entire year lying flat on your back in bed? At least some people did.


Boris Morukov decided to be a cosmonaut, so naturally, he was an overachiever. His path to space included a medical degree, and studies in cardiology, gastroenterology, opthalmology, and otolaryngology. Perhaps he felt that he still hadn't distinguished himself enough. Or perhaps he really wanted to find out if it was possible for humans to colonize space. Whatever the reason, he organized what NASA calls a "370-day experiment dedicated to the experimental testing of a countermeasure complex for prolonged space flights."

We might call it "a bunch of miserable people lying flat in bed for over a year." Studies of this kind are done even today, and their participants are generally well-compensated. They have to be, because this isn't the equivalent of lazing in bed for the day. Participants never sit up - not to make themselves more comfortable, not to bathe, not to eat, and not to go to the bathroom. The point is to simulate the effects of microgravity on the human body, and those effects are not good. Loss of muscle and bone is just the beginning. People also lose function in their internal organs, including the heart which slows as it doesn't have to push blood up against the force of gravity, and have trouble digesting. At least, though, the astronauts got to go into space.

Morukov's cosmonauts just sat in bed, watching television and hating life. They had some relief. After about four months, some were allowed to do muscle clenching exercises while still sitting in bed. Others "walked" on a vertical treadmill placed at the foot of their beds. The idea was to see if the well-known deterioration of the body could be countered by these exercises. However much the exercises helped, they weren't enough to keep the eleven subjects fit. After the end of the experiment they spent a further two months learning to walk again. The subjects went through a lot - towards the end they were put in a centrifuge to simulate the pressure of landing back on Earth - but they didn't seem to bear Morukov any ill will. When given supplies, they would even make him presents.

Maybe one of the side effects of microgravity is Stockholm Syndrome?

Via Mad Science Book, JSC.

Image: OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons @ Flickr Commons



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