What are you like at docking a virtual spacecraft with a space station? And, more importantly, how does this change over 60 days lying in bed?
This image shows a participant in the current ESA-NASA bedrest study at the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) :envihab facility in Cologne, Germany.
Wearing a virtual reality headset and using joystick controllers, she is attempting to dock a spacecraft as part of a simulation that will be repeated at regular intervals throughout her 60 days in bed.
Bedrest has long been used to mimic some of the changes our bodies experience in the weightlessness of space. Participants lie in beds with the head end tilted 6° below horizontal and must ensure one shoulder is touching the mattress at all times.
As blood flows to the participants’ heads and muscle is lost from underuse, researchers use activities such as the docking simulation to better understand the physical and cognitive effects of microgravity-like conditions. They then test techniques to try and combat these effects, from diet to physical exercise.
This bedrest study is the first of its kind to be conducted in partnership between ESA and NASA. It is also the first to employ DLR’s short-arm centrifuge as a way of recreating different gravity levels for participants.
Once a day, a selection of the study’s participants will lie in DLR’s short-arm centrifuge where they will be spun to encourage blood to flow back towards their feet. This will allow researchers to better understand the potential of artificial gravity in mitigating the effects of weightlessness on human bodies.