Thursday, July 31, 2008
Another story with quotes, "NASA Test Subjects Paid to Stay in Bed Three Straight Months" hit the general Fox.com website in the early afternoon -- and then it immediately hit Slashdot, at which point my blog hits and email went HAYWIRE.
I got a ton of good questions and comments that would make for interesting posts about life here in the study, so I'll be going through those tonight and hopefully posting again. If I don't address yours or answer email right away, please don't think it's anything more than sheer VOLUME at the moment! Also putting together some new photo galleries. Stay tuned :)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I was lucky to have only a few, namely the BACKACHE. Everyone responds differently, but lower back pain is a constant. It's tempting to stick with shallow breaths, because deep, diaphragmatic breathing HURTS. Curling foetally helps us get to sleep when we need to, and we can have Tylenol at this stage. Rolling from side to side alleviates it for short periods, but the days seemed slooow. My new best friend was my heating pad -- in fact, if anyone had tried to take it from me, they'd have lost a hand. I've heard stories of some extreme cases of past subjects having bad acid reflux or vomiting, so I'm eating slowly and chewing more, since I definitely don't want either of those. With the feet higher than the head, digestion is distinctly altered, so the dieticians drop our caloric intake.
On the heels of all this merriment was continued blood movement, which rather tricks the body into thinking it is dehydrated. Even after blazing through 2 pitchers of water, I still "feel" thirsty... the brain misinterprets all this flap & flutter as water shortage and produces a dull headache. Episodically, it turned into spinning sensation, where I just had to close my eyes and hope the room slowed down around me! I tried to describe it as: "like vertigo when you're standing up," to which Captain Sarcasmo quipped, "Hmm, so basically you're having horizontago." Isn't he helpful. ;)
For the past week I have not posted, or found another topic other than what I was intermittently experiencing, because all the symptoms do a darned good job of making you cranky. There were times when I was just dead still; the only thing keeping me from crawling out of bed and grabbing for my suitcase was repeating to myself, "All in the name of science, all in the name of science..."
There's no nice way to say: it blows to be in pain, even if you know it's predictable and temporary. Here's the part where I assure you, I’m not lounging about on easy street. If you’re reading this and thinking of applying, the perks rock and there are fun times – but THIS AIN’T FOR SISSIES.
On the upside, the staff is swift and attentive, right down to holding your hand through the worst of it. The nurses and monitors do all they can to bring you things, make you comfortable, assure you that everyone has their own subset of reactions and that it will definitely pass as the body adjusts. Fingers crossed for a fast adaptation!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
NASA's motto is: "For the benefit of all"
Click here for the official 50th Anniversary Website, which has some amazing photographs, both past and present... and also check out the new issue and posts on WIRED Science, which features 50 years of NASA's achievements and more great photos. WIRED is truly one of the best places to keep up, and I love how much interest and excitement they generate in the space program! Google also changed their search engine logo for the day:
Monday, July 28, 2008
Jim & Carol presented a slide show about the features of planet Mars, and some of the practical challenges we face in reaching the fourth planet, such as trip duration, fuel, habitat, radiation, effects of long-term weightlessness (I'm helping with that one!), and long-range communications. Interestingly, James was a test subject in 1967 for an early bedrest study, conducted by the Air Force for anticipated changes in astronauts' heart health. Of course, protocols have changed since military research programs of the 60s, but we were intrigued to find many similarities.
SWAG ALERT! Upon closing, they also gave us NASA logo stickers and pencils, official promotional portraits of the STS-124 Space Shuttle crew, the Phoenix Mars Lander, the International Space Station, and a great poster of the next generation launch rocket, Project Constellation's Ares V.
"Ares" was the Greek God of War, which the ancient Romans translated as "Mars." Yeah, same guy. So while this booster was designed to get us back to the moon around 2018, you can see where NASA minds are focused. In this next generation, it is ALL ABOUT the red planet, baby.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Many of you have already heard about Marcus. Along with many others, we met in June and underwent screening together in Houston after the last application round. He's a resident of Seattle, has a degree in Sports Management and will start on his MBA when our simulation study is over. I was so glad when he finally showed up this week! Although, it was my last day walking upright...but we luckily had a cloudy day with no sunlight, and we were able to wander around. I'm sure you will not find it hard to believe he's also been known to do a bit of modeling ;)
Here in all his glorious balloon armor is Michael, a new addition to the lunar study. He graduated from college with a Psychology degree and is working on applications to various medical schools. After his stay here, he plans to travel from Moscow through the Baltics, and on into western Europe before returning to his education. A native of Houston, Michael plays the guitar, reads a great deal and appreciates art & architecture, plus he's got an impressive family tree -- his grandfather worked for NASA for 40 years!
And we can't forget Devin, ward comedian -- or as I call him, Captain Sarcasmo. It's a bird, it's a plane... o nevermind... safe to say, we all enjoy his quick, ironic wit as he keeps us entertained (and he's a pretty good sport when we rib him about the areas of his legs they had to shave for test sensors). Devin has visited all 48 of the contiguous United States, and has lived and worked in Arizona & North Carolina. He's now back in Iowa, where he was born and where he owns a large horse farm... and we're pretty sure he's probably done time. We're too scared to ask.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Thank you! Today was the big day! At 11:00am, Nurse Nicki tilted my bed -6 degrees. I had a normal, relaxing morning, and didn't become agitated until the last few moments. It was suddenly an appalling prospect to think Wow, when I get in bed again, I won’t get up for 90 days! I had a brief panic alert down in my reptilian brain... then that overachiever who lives in my neocortex tapped her snarky little foot and said, "You signed up for this, little miss think-you-can-handle-anything, you're going to finish."
The blood-rush to the head is immediate. For about an hour, I concentrated on changes, trying to determine where my body was adjusting (and tingling!). At a head-down angle, I felt my heartbeat more succinctly everywhere, and there was a definite difference in sinus pressure by the time they brought lunch at 12:30.
I put a towel beside me, and pulled my plate close to avoid spills. I cannot use a knife with any leverage to cut things, so it's a relief that most of what is served is in small pieces -- though I might use my fingers more now. To avoid choking, we’re told to prop up on one elbow, but even then, drinking out of a glass is a trick. Straws become a big part of life.
Swallowing has a different feel, and breathing takes more effort, but there has been no pain or discomfort. After a few hours, I could feel a pulsating sensation in my back teeth and some tension in my neck. I flipped on my TV and found an X-Files marathon on Sci-Fi, so that was karmic, LOL... I had Mulder & Scully to take my mind off the blood draining from my legs. Also had my first massage -- the best perk of all! So now I’m in "adaptation" mode. It feels so weird to be typing upward!
Hockey-Chica Mrs. L says: Well, I am still periodically watching NASA channel in case what you are doing shows up. If they have to evacuate you guys, do they take you out in your beds? Grin...
Don't hold your breath, my friend. But if you're serious, write a letter to Oprah! LOL, I couldn't be any goofier than the specimens she finds. If the facility evacuates, they will roll us to gurneys and transport us to the mainland for rehabilitation in Houston. If that happens, we're done and cannot rejoin, and we get paid to that point for time spent. All of UTMB did shut down once, when Hurricane Rita hit in 2005.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
A staff member would shake your shoulder and try to help you feel more alert by playing a game, moving you to a common room to spend time with others, etc. I did nearly doze off during the foot veins test, and the ultra-sound guy just touched my arm and said, "try not to fall asleep." Then hurry up, pal ;)
In the mornings, we get the same kind of "astronaut wake-up call" that the folks in space (since the Gemini era) get -- selected music piped through speakers near our beds. The staff usually picks songs, though we can request specific ones if we like.
Mrs. L also asks: Will they show you on the NASA channel?
That would be a big NO, haha... honestly, even if a camera crew descended upon us, it would be far more interesting to speak to the scientists who develop test protocols or countermeasures. However, a NASA rep asked us questions for an article to be posted on their website, that may be published this fall.
Carmi of Written Inc asks: Do you get to go see shuttle launches? NASA swag? Dinner with an astronaut? Space center tours?
Definitely swag! Our Activities Coordinator gave me a pen, shirt and tote bag so far. She also arranged for items from the employee store… and I hear we get gifts upon completion. I've already seen two shuttle launches and toured two space centers twice each. While interviewing, we're driven around areas of NASA that tourists don't generally lay eyes on, and that was a pretty cool perq -- if you don't mind gun-toting-guys barking at you for your security badge and driver's license at checkpoints. I know other folks went to see Rocket Park during screening.
Alas, no astro-dinners... I wish! In the past, Dan Thomas and one of the Kelly brothers came to visit... also Michael Coats came through once to meet everyone. More may breeze through, who knows!
Monday, July 21, 2008
Asthma is fine, you'd only be barred if you had something we can catch. Blood draws test our "immunocompetence,” which is expected to dwindle over the duration, and we cannot ingest medicines. You can't have a cold, can't lean on the bed, can't bring edibles, etc... I'll get a soft-copy of the visitor's booklet to post.
Diane asks via email (paraphrased): OH, sounds painful! Do they give you any kind of [assurance that nothing will cause permanent damage] from these tilts or injections?
Let's see * * Shakes Magic 8 Ball * * nope, no guarantees ;) You sign papers saying you understand these studies carry RISK, and you can't fuss if you have to work hard to get your health back on track because lying tilted for 90 days gave you a sinus condition or tweaked your lumbar vertebrae or made you grow a tail or whatever. However, given the medical staff here, I have a better chance of getting Chris Pronger and Sean Avery to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" together than someone NOT responding to any systemic emergency within about half a second.
D also asks: How many people are there? How big is this place? Are we asking too many questions?
NASA has two UTMB floors for medical studies and space studies, each with capacity for twelve residents. I don't know about 5th Floor, but on the 6th there are three subjects, me and two men. Another man is due to be admitted this week, and a woman in early August. I've asked around as to how crowded it gets, since right now it's very low. I found one longtimer who has seen a full 12 on my floor, but it's more likely to be between 5-7 people at a time.
LOL, no... nobody is asking too many, this is great. If you ask questions, I don't have to think about what to write.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I would have definitely shaved my head if that were the case, LOL... and I almost did! We can shower whenever we please while we are in the ambulatory phase. Each room has a large bathroom with a shower and half-tub. Even on the busiest day, they will allot "Hygiene Time" on our daily schedule (Click picture to see detail). However, one person here prefers to shower at night and they are fine with it. Also, I've showered every time I have returned from cycling or weight-lifting, and if I take two per day, no one cares.
Once we go to bed rest, we simply shower lying down. We are transferred to a gurney at the same -6 degree tilt as our beds, and are wheeled into a wide, tiled room with a customized, adjustable shower fixture, lower to the ground. We can roll the gurney itself by using our arms, or manipulate the shower-heads in various directions. It's simple to stay clean, I'm only worried about getting water up my nose. I'm sure it takes some practice maneuvering. However, I don't have much hair left to wash! Not worried.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Hockey-Chica Mrs. L asked, “[Along with the no-sunlight-rule], any other restrictions?"
Yes, but nothing unreasonable. We are such adaptable creatures, and it's stunning how quickly you stop "missing" things when focused elsewhere. I have few sundries here, as we cannot have any extra vitamin E or A from lotions, lip-balms, etc. We have toothpaste and shampoo, but no hair products. I didn't bother with cosmetics. No medications, no herbals, no sleep aids or painkillers except Tylenol upon request.
Any deviation from ingestion/absorption rules can alter or taint results. That is the highest aim: CLEAN DATA.
I haven’t seen anyone violate protocol; folks here seem to balance having fun and taking the science seriously. Oddly, it's like having an exciting new assignment and a complete vacation from the outside world – all at once! As I look at it, this is my occupation right now. I am on NASA's payroll as a contractor, so this is how I am "making a living" as far as the IRS is concerned. I want to put in as good an effort here as any office job or client contract, because this data is what NASA uses for development in real-world scenarios.
Today was my first “bad day.” The testing made me ill and one of our brethren just went home, which bummed everyone out, staff & analogs alike. But even on bad days, I’ll try to remember the goal as written simply in my project prospectus: “Information in this study will help plan future space flights.”
Friday, July 18, 2008
It's starting to sink in that I'll be recumbent for three months without the ability to rise! I've heard and read that a hundred times now -- but it's becoming more "real" as it approaches.
I got a question last night via email asking if I am allowed to leave? Yes and no. We can walk about the facility freely, and also leave the 6th floor to go to any other floor. I have technically been "outdoors" twice, but I'm limited in how far I can wander, since I cannot go into direct sunlight. This would cause the body to create extra Vitamin D, so we must stay in shade. It is particularly weird for me, because I'm in a room where the sun comes crashing in during the late afternoon. So I literally can't even go into the corner of my room between about 4 and 7pm!
Mom also asked if we can spend time with other subjects? Yes, we all have contact every day, whether walking around or lying down. Monitors will wheel the "bed-ridden" ones to various floors or the lobby for a change of pace, and sometimes a whole group will tag along. We also meet in common rooms to watch movies, and some of the guys wheel their beds together around the Wii or Playstation to play video games. Magazines tend to travel from room to room, and we each have TVs & laptops for entertainment.
And yes, anyone can have visitors. I haven't seen any, because everyone is from out-of-state... all our friends & families are far away, but any could come and go with certain restrictions: no one can be ill in any way (because our immune systems take a dive), and they cannot bring anything in with them. The nurses tell funny stories about folks who tried to have pals sneak in candy bars or other contraband food, LOL... and one woman who even had a friend try to sneak in her cat! Seriously, how do you sneak a CAT anywhere?! Needless to say, that did not have a happy ending...
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
They left out the minor tidbit about that gear on his feet being worth about, oh... $50,000!
My first impression of Kevin after speaking with him the first couple times was "outdoorsy" -- I figured he was a hang-gliding instructor or field guide. He's got a real Indiana Jones vibe ;) So it was no surprise he said that after he gets out of the testing facility, he plans to travel with some friends ... he is definitely adventurous, having been all around China, India, Europe & the Caribbean!
Kevin, a graduate of UC, is also founder of the eco-friendly Racecooler Co. in Cincinnati where they "re-invent the wheel." I started reading some of the articles on his website, and my favorite is the one from UberReview, because like the critic there, I know zip about racing but I know a cool unique product when I see one. I so have to get one of these for J's birthday!
Monday, July 14, 2008
Can I just SAY, I have the bestest-buds ever. After sending the news to my hockey crew, I got some fun results:
Shannon in San Jose, CA says: Holy mackanoly! Arch this is amazing and just so cool! It takes someone with major mental strength to participate in something like this. You need to write a book when you are done. Unless of course you signed your life away with confidentiality agreements. Good Luck, I am so going to enjoy keeping up with your blog throughout your experience!
Thanks! I’ll post how they measure mental strength along the way… hopefully mine will stay intact. But I’ll bet around day 45 or so, pizza commercials will make me cry ;) I could write a book if I change names or get permission from anyone I interview or photograph. I asked before I started the blog. NASA delightfully encourages it.
Cara in Helsinki, Finland says: Amazing! Can you give us some backstory on how you got where you are?
I was seeking something “different,” and I sure found it! It started as a joke and got serious in stages. My backstory is on the right navbar in the "Screening Process" link :) Sorry for the length -- even I was surprised at what I went through once I wrote it all down.
Mike in San Francisco, CA says: I'm amazed and thrilled that you are doing something like this. You can bet your blog is going directly into my RSS reader. Good luck, and wow!
Susan in Boston, MA says: AWESOME, Arch!! That is wicked cool. I look forward to checking in on your blog. Enjoy the Tang!
Tang! I forgot to ask if we get Tang! Hahaha… so far I’ve gotten cranberry juice, milk or water. But they like to play with the menus daily, I wonder if Tang will be on there??
Marie in San Jose, CA says: How interesting and very cool!! Good luck and looking forward to your blog updates!
Clarice in Boise, ID says: you've always been just about the coolest person i know but damn this definitely takes you to the top of the list! Enjoy and keep us posted - i'm adding this to my set of homepages for sure!
It means everything to me that you’ve all been so positive and supportive, thank you! And I love that you’ll be “reading along” … I’ll try to be descriptive and interesting.
AmyG in Orland Park, IL says: Wow Arch! That's crazy... so you're going to be lying in bed for possibly up to 119 days!??!
It’s crazy, me cRaZeee… LOL, you’ve known me for 12 years and you’re just noticing? Actually I have 12 days of baseline testing, 90 days of “spaceflight sim” bedrest, then 13 days of bone/muscle rehabilitation, because just like the astronauts upon return home, I won’t be able to walk or even balance myself. But yes, it can go to 119 days, depending on rehab speed.
Ellon in Willow Glen, CA says: This is the coolest thing ever! one of my friends is an astronaut! sorta! heheh. can't wait to read the entries. i guess this explains why you stopped drinking coke. good luck!
Oh I wish.... but I'm happy to play “fake astronaut” to keep future ones more healthy. A trip to Mars could take two years, and we need to figure a way for them to walk about and collect rocks when they land. I wanted to be part of that tremendous effort. It may happen after I’m dead, certainly, but I know that our species reaching another planet will someday be a reality! And yep, this was behind my migraine-saturated withdrawal. I'm off caffeine for the first time since… well, for the first time.
Amy2 in Washington DC says: OMG, THAT'S SO WILD! I'm not even sure what to say... GOOD LUCK?!? haha! I must say, as a lawyer, I enjoyed reading your disclaimer. ;-)
Luck is what I’ll need for 115 days of no walking, no sitting up, no tea, no soda, no alcohol, no salt, no chocolate … and no sex. But hey, my attorney likes my attempt at legalese, good to know ;)
Rene in Santa Clara, CA says: I did a lot of reading on this and it sounds cool. I do admit Greg and I are worried about your bone mass at the end (since you are so tiny) so we will be bugging you to make sure you take steps to work on that once this is all over!
What are friends for? Turns out my bone density was very healthy, but I still welcome and appreciate encouragement at the end. I'll be fatigued after losing muscle mass and equilibrium. The psychologists say some folks are also prone to mid-way depression, so it’s all about keeping yourself engaged and busy.
GregL in Santa Clara, CA says: You're nuts :) I admire the discipline it takes, but no way I would want to do it! Will track your posts!
Yes, we've established that I'm nuts, always have been. The difference is, I finally found someone to PAY me just for being nuts! Ah, it's a proud, blissful moment in Looneyville ;)
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Wyle and Johnson Space Center (JSC) folks have walked me all around today since my arrival, helping me get situated in my room, introducing me to other participants, and briefing me on the culture and protocols here. So far everyone is very chipper & helpful!
I got my television, unpacked the books and DVDs I had mailed here, then spent the rest of my afternoon installing software on my new laptop. I had to wade through (and sign) a 20-page list of rules for use before I could even connect to the jsc.nasa.gov network, LOL... I think the government has my signature a couple hundred times over at this point!
And so the ride begins...
Monday, July 7, 2008
Colloquially, and on the internet, it is now being referred to as the "Bedrest Study" because some newscasts and blogs found the bedrest portion amusing. What it boils down to is finding ways to keep humans healthy in space for longer periods of time, so we can survive on a possible moon base, and hopefully make it to Mars. The only way to do that on earth is lie down until your muscles and bones mimic what happens in space. See the new links for photo galleries and articles to the right if you are curious about the details -- or feel free to ask questions. I had a million myself at the beginning!
Here is another colorful pamphlet, front and back, for the Johnson Space Center. It sure changed a lot over the years! Definitely worth the visit if you are ever in the neighborhood.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
As of this past week, I wrapped up final preparations to spend the next few months at NASA! I endured multiple screenings, interviews, plus a trip to Houston to meet with the coordinators, physicians and scientists.
With all that has occurred in the last month, my brain is racing, oversaturated... but it will all come together soon. I've been shopping for items on their "List Of Things To Bring" to the research study, arranging for house & garden care, and hopefully poking around a bit more on this site so I can get the hang of this blogging deal. Now all that is left to do is pack!