Reinhold Ewald visits AGBRESA participants – from astronaut to explornaut
The spaceship hatch is open, so pressure equalisation with the outside world has clearly already taken place. Standing before the :envihab facility in Cologne early on a Monday evening on my way to a special kind of ‘nauts’, namely ‘explornauts’, I feel as if I’m about to enter a space station. While Earth’s astronauts have not come much closer to their goal – the stars (astro-) – explornauts are in a comparatively better position. On the way to new inventions and discoveries, which explorers have always made, one does not always need impressive technology; sometimes a bed inclined down at the head end by six degrees is sufficient.##markend##
In the days before a launch, this technique is used in Baikonur to familiarise cosmonauts with the expected redistribution of body fluids towards their head during weightlessness. The explornauts taking part in the AGBRESA study also spend their days and nights in this position. They are helping to provide a solid statistical foundation for the effects observed on the few people who have already been to space.
Audience in an inclined position
The audience at :envihab is the most unusual I have ever had for any of my lectures – 12 test participants lying in bed. Of course, I cannot resist the jokingly asking them to accompany me to the small podium for easier viewing. But that’s enough humour, as unfortunately their unusual situation also brings many of the painful side effects of spaceflight – pressure in the head, back pain, loss of bone mass and muscle tone, dizziness, and circulatory problems after returning to an upright stance. I experienced this for myself and express my sympathy to the test participants as they take part in this experiment in the interest of science. As with a long flight to Mars – part of my lecture – secondary motivations are not sufficient to psychologically endure such limitations for long periods of time, whether in a six-degree head-down bed or in a spacecraft bound for Mars. A personal interest in the knowledge your efforts will provide must be at the forefront. For me, these side effects were the way of life on board the Mir space station, which was completely controlled by a scientific team for almost three weeks. I kept this up, despite some difficulties, and it led to a revolutionary understanding of the salt balance in the human body. These results were then statistically confirmed by terrestrial explornauts who repeated the experimental methodology of my ‘Metabolic Ward in Space’.
Admiration for the AGBRESA test participants
I admire the test participants, who not only listened to me attentively for 90 minutes in an absolutely sleep-inducing situation, but also questioned me intensively and showed an interest in space research. I have the impression that I have infected the audience with my enthusiasm for space exploration. I wish the whole crew and the test participants a ‘soft landing’ after the bed-rest phase and many exciting results, which will reward the efforts that these AGBRESA explornauts have made.