Space | 08. December 2021

SANS-CM bed rest study: Docking manoeuvres while lying down, guitar concerts and jelly legs

Probandin der SANS%2dCM%2dBettruhestudie in der Unterdruckkammer LBNP
Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved
Six test participants spent two times three hours per day in the low pressure chamber during the bed-rest phase. They were built by DLR in coordination with NASA and they ensure that the body fluids are 'pulled' to the lower half of the body.
 

The first campaign of the SANS-CM bed rest study has come to an end and the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine is already preparing for the next one, which will begin in spring 2022. While the test participants spent their last days after their 30-day bed rest at :envihab, the research team has been working on processing the extensive data and continuing the study with new test participants. Before this round's participants packed their bags at the end of November to resume their real lives, we asked them about their experiences.##markend##

Participant F1, 35, a trained carpenter who is now studying bodywork and art, is always open to new things. She likes challenges, and regular exercise is very important to her. This is precisely what motivated her to apply for this study: she wanted to find out how it feels not to be able to stand up for 30 days.

To put it in a nutshell: She would do it again. During the bed-rest phase, she did have times where it was more difficult for her, but she recovered quickly and the wobbly legs, sore muscles and unsteady walking were gone after two days. Mentally, too, it was much easier for her than she had thought; she had expected that the lack of exercise would do her no good psychologically. On the contrary, she even found it a relief not to have to worry about anything. The food was provided to her and all everyday things or organisational matters were taken off her hands.

Precisely because the time before the study was quite hectic for her, the study was almost a 'two-month time-out' for her. She used the time to meditate and started drawing again. Her 'journey within', as she calls it, calmed her down and helped her focus on what was important. Since she was in the control group, she sat up for six hours a day during the bed-rest phase. This allowed her to pursue her passion for playing the guitar and her fellow participants were enthusiastic about the concerts.

30 days of lying down is an enormous strain on the body

The 25-year-old test person M1, a self-employed web designer and IT all-rounder, found standing up particularly fascinating: The raising from the six-degree head-down position takes place on a so-called tilting table, which brings the participants to a standing position within a few seconds after their 30-day bed rest in the head-down position. This is also a scientific experiment used by us to test the cardiovascular system. Test person M1 beams when he tells us how it felt: At first he felt a bit dizzy, he got hot and cold, breathing became more difficult, before he was then tilted back into a horizontal position for a few minutes to recover.

And then the first 'real' independent standing up: Standing up by himself, feeling the weight of his body and head for the first time again, his feet feeling the pressure of their own weight, his legs trembling with the first steps, then sitting down in the wheelchair. He felt happy, woozy, a little weak and also a little proud at the same time. The so-called tilting table was the most exciting experiment for him, the one he was most looking forward to during the 30 days of lying down. And the getting up of the other test persons was also something special: for each of the twelve in total, a small reception was given and they directly exchanged their experiences with the tilt table.

Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved
The tilting table – a highlight for our test participants. It is located in the preventative and rehabilitation laboratory of :envihab at DLR in Cologne.

After moving out, M1 will first visit friends and family in the way of a road trip. At first, the family was sceptical whether participating in such a study was a good idea. But after the first phone call, he was able to convince them that he was doing well and actually enjoying the time. For him, the team experience also contributed a lot: although none of the twelve knew each other beforehand, they joined together from the start to form an excellent team of 'terrestrial' astronauts.

Standing up with jelly legs

The team and their joint challenge were also very important for the other participants. The 29-year-old test participant E1, an aircraft mechanic, reports that the community and the exchange as well as mutual motivation helped her a lot. The long concentration phases during the extensive eye examinations were especially difficult. Surprisingly, she did not become fidgety and restless during the study despite her usually very active life.

Lying in the low pressure chamber for six hours a day had been particularly hard for her, but she eventually found it rather comfortable. Standing upright on the tilting table was also a highlight for her: "All of a sudden you feel the weight again, the heaviness, you have to consciously keep your head straight and your legs feel like jelly." But after the first few hours upright in the wheelchair, that too went back to normal. What she looks forward to most is sleeping in at home, also fresh air and cycling in nature. She wouldn't want to miss the experience of the bed rest study at all and would participate again in a heartbeat.

Docking training – docking a spaceship is a very demanding manoeuvre with six degrees of freedom

Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved
A challenging 'computer game' for our participants: Docking training while lying down

Test participant B1, 31 years old, bioinformatics student, still has some back pain after getting up and is regularly looked after by the physiotherapists. He belonged to the control group with six hours of sitting a day. So, although he was used to spending some time in the upright position, standing up on the tilt table was a new feeling for him. He felt a bit drunk and shaky for the first few minutes. For him, the docking experiment, during which you have to dock with a spaceship on a screen with six degrees of freedom while lying down was one of the most exciting experiments. But above all, he was thrilled to be part of a team in space research and to master this challenge together.

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How does microgravity affect the human body? And how can we counteract the negative effects? On Earth, bed rest studies are used to study the effects of microgravity on the human body in order to investigate reactions, effects and countermeasures. to authorpage