ESA is looking for female volunteers

In preparation for a 60-day Female Bed-Rest Study, which starts in January/February 2005, an official call for candidates to participate as test subjects has been issued.

The Bed-Rest Study will need 24 female candidates who will remain in bed, slightly tilted head down at six degrees below horizontal, for a total of 60 days, to simulate the physiological effects of an extended period in weightlessness as experienced by astronauts. Within the framework of various research protocols, the study will assess the role of nutrition and physical exercise in countering the adverse effects of long-duration weightlessness on female astronauts.

The study is a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA), the French space agency (CNES), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It will be carried out by MEDES, the French Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology, in its clinical research facility at the Rangueil hospital in Toulouse, France.

So far little is known of how the female body is affected by weightless conditions. This is because the majority of previous ground-based studies have been carried out on male volunteers, and because relatively few women have flown in space to date. The study will help advance knowledge of gender differences in the experience of extended exposure to weightlessness.

The 24 test subjects will be split into three groups of eight. One will be the control group, receiving no extra stimulus over the course of the 60-day bed-rest period. The second group will undertake an exercise programme whilst in bed during this time. The third will receive a nutritional supplement over the course of the 60 days. For the 21 days prior to the 60-day bed-rest period, the test subjects will take part in the collection of baseline data. During the 20 days following the bed-rest period they will undergo similar tests, for comparison with the baseline data.

The research protocols come from a variety of international research teams selected through strict review by international experts. These protocols will assess the three groups to draw conclusions relating to specific areas including muscle condition, blood parameters, cardiovascular condition, changes in immune system, bone formation and psychological wellbeing. All research areas, objectives and protocols of the study have been approved by the responsible French ethical committee in Toulouse and will comply fully with all applicable national and international laws and regulations.

With the European Space Agency’s future plans for human space exploration, the results expected from this research will prove valuable in planning long-duration human missions. This research will also have clinical significance on Earth, advancing knowledge and pointing to improved methods to assist recovery by bedridden patients, and providing countermeasures to conditions associated with reduced physical activity.

Details of the requirements to be met by candidates, the conditions of participation and the application to become one of the participants in the Female Bed-Rest Study can be found at: