Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Galveston Christmas

A pretty laid-back holiday! Most of my family is in California and Devin's is in Iowa; we decided to tour around Galveston, visit the Festival of Lights celebration, and have a group dinner with his co-worker buds.

Some island areas require more work, but most of the big ticket items have re-opened. Two of the three Moody Gardens pyramids escaped Hurricane Ike unscathed, though sadly the Rainforest Pyramid flooded, so that one won't be repaired until mid-2009. Everyone is rushing to ensure that "Spring Break" will be the same wild party it's been in years past.

PillownautWe went to the Sea Wall, though it was difficult to see into the Gulf of Mexico due to fog. It's gloomy to still see random piles of storm debris, but saddest of all was seeing UTMB deserted. We went to the NASA ward to see anyone who might be working, but everything was dark. Ironically, this was the first year they had originally planned to be operational over the holidays for long-term study subjects.

Hopefully things will jump start in 2009. I came home to find some great news in my inbox, as someone sent me a Houston Press article about Ryan "Shaggy" Hull in the Hair Balls Blog. I'd met him briefly when we visited UTMB in early November, and he'd had an interesting experience with his lunar study... and plans to return for the long-term study later!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Q&A

Mrs. L of San Jose, CA says: Dang, I liked reading your posts on a regular basis. Couldn't you start doing research on other NASA stuff :) Go Sharks!
Sarcasmo answers: RESEARCH? Aw, that sounds like work. What Sharks? Where?
Pillownaut answers: Thanks, Hun! I wish! We'll just be on the NASA “fringe” now... reporting on space news or studies. I'm all about the “Unsung Heroes." The astronauts tend to get the press, but for every one of them, there are thousands of people behind the scenes, behind desks, under deadlines, holding wrenches, hunched over laptops, working in labs... ;) Go Sharks, indeed!

ActingUpAgain (Ray Robinson) of Louisville, KY asks: You might consider prompting others to take up the blogging. Maybe even test subjects in different areas. Considering the attention this blog generated, it would be a shame if this window into NASA activities be closed. Have you considered visiting current pillownauts for encouragement? Is there a shortage of test subjects now?
Pillownaut answers: I agree about the window into activities; we hope to stay in touch and continue to spread the word! Almost everyone in the program is now friended on Facebook. Many of those have blogs as well. I’ll continue to visit both staff and any subjects who are interested in making friends… it’s quite a bonding experience once you get to know “life in the ward.”
Sarcasmo answers: I know of three lunar study subjects who came through recently, but at present, the ward is completely empty.

Sound Man "G" of Springfield, MO asks: So, will y'all be eligible to restart the bedrest study? I am debating about applying, as I am in a transition process with Radiology Tech school...
Pillownaut answers: For safety and health reasons, NASA has time limits on when folks from past studies can re-apply for future ones, largely so muscles and bones can regain strength. We’ll have tests at our 6-month mark to see how our bodies have healed, at which point they would determine if we might be good candidates again. Good luck in Radiology school!
Sarcasmo answers: I don't know if I would pass the psychological exam a second time. jk ;) If my bone scan shows I am eligible, I don't know if I can return right away, because I'll be in nursing school -- but I'd be willing to arrange a semester off for NASA. I am sure they expected a slowdown during the holidays, but if anyone thinks they are healthy enough to qualify, definitely send in an application or call. Need to fill those beds!

Susan (City not named) asks: In your past post, you mentioned a NASA mailing list subscription? Can anyone get this?
Pillownaut answers: Absolutely… and there are multiple lists to choose from. A good place to start is the News Subscription Page, which has a list of what is available in both English and Spanish. I belong to the Space Science Updates and NASA For Educators list, which you can also find in the Education section. From the home page, you can enter an email address and set preferences, regularity, and even a subscription password, etc.
Sarcasmo answers: She is such a complete geek. I just watch the NASA channel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Used Shuttles 4 Sale

When I first saw this on the web, I thought "The Onion" was having some goofball contest, and initially ignored it. Then I got an alert from a NASA mailing list, saying they were indeed soliciting ideas for retired space shuttles.

NASA Astronaut

Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavor will need new homes after 2010. Of course, I expect a fair amount of nut jobs to submit flippant notions:

  • Prop car for next Batman film
  • Move to Las Vegas Strip and convert into casino resort
  • Park in San Francisco and run a Starbucks from the payload bay, see if anyone actually notices...
  • Donate to Ringling Brothers, as they've clearly run out of things they can teach monkeys to drive
  • Space Spa: "Free Vulcan Neck Rubs Inside"

... but in reality, here's hoping at least one goes to Rocket Park, and others find dignified homes befitting treasured American artifacts. NASA's request went to educational institutions, science museums and other organizations to discuss ways to "acquire and publicly display the space shuttle orbiters and engines after the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program."

The price tag to move space hardware will be a hefty one, so all the planetariums who want one for their dome ornament need to get moving on some fundraisers. Can’t wait to see where they make their final landings...

Friday, December 5, 2008

FOX News Redux

The other reason I drove south was because Fox Reporter Ned Hibberd and Photographer Mike Foster contacted me about a follow-up story, after seeing that the NASA studies had been interrupted by Hurricane Ike. Here is a pre-show teaser from the 9 O'Clock news a few days ago:

When they asked about the island evacuation, the above clip was the tail end of a comment I made about how I couldn't believe the huge effort it takes to get so many residents out of an area.

A few written blurbs are in the Fox Archives under "Hurricane Ike Disrupts NASA Bed Rest Study." They showed that excerpt, and other bits of us walking around Hermann Park in Houston.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Galveston Reunion

It was sad, exciting, interesting and mournful to see Galveston after nearly three months. With clear blue skies, it's difficult to picture a storm ravaging such a radiant seaside town. Many buildings have only boards where glass windows used to be, and wood debris litters the sidewalks and streets, having been cleared from driving paths but never entirely removed. Fallen trees or broken road signs are more common sights than flowers or birds. Even the Galveston sign has a noticeable dent, a giant target for some flying object.

On the encouraging side, healthy relief efforts are equally apparent on every part of the island. The greenery killed by salt water is re-emerging and most residents have returned. In stark contrast to the first dramatic photographs published back in September, clean-up crews have erased much of the worst hurricane damage.

Devin and I met at UTMB's main building. The last time we'd both seen that spot, we had been shaky and hobbling, among the many thousands of frightened people amid a sea of emergency vehicles. We'd kept in touch by telephone, email, myspace comments, etc. but there is nothing like being on the island again and being able to talk face-to-face!


The UTMB lobby no longer had a front desk, or furniture, or carpet. Waterline marks stained the walls, and workmen in plastic suits rushed around temporary barriers, backed by cones to keep people out of still-dangerous areas. Many carried tools, cords, mops or crates; one passed me carrying an HP printer. We walked through deserted wings, seeing no people in scrubs running around, no gurneys, no cell phone chatter, no lights on.

We laughed at ourselves for momentarily forgetting which elevator button to press . For heaven's sake, hadn't we spent months there? We argued over whether it was the 5th or 6th floor, and cracked up at our swiss-cheese memories. Upon arrival at the 6th floor Galveston Clinical Research Center (GCRC), we found a small crew and had a happy reunion! We chatted amiably about what we had all been up to since Ike, how glad everyone was to be back at work, rebuilding whatever they had lost, and how relieved they would be when everything was "back to normal."

Longtime study vet Nurse Tammy was the first to return. Maria and Nikki stopped to say hello, along with Terri, Elva and Michelle. It was surreal to see everyone again, especially since we had been used to seeing them from a –6 degree position from a bed! Deron was back for the lunar study, and one new gentleman had been recruited, but that was all. We were glad to see studies are back in action, but it’s so disappointing that the subject population dropped from eight down to only two. Ward, interrupted!

NASA Study

Devin, our dear Miss Maria, Heather & Deron

Later as I left the building, I wound around toward the hospital cafeteria, which was still closed. Beside the entrance was a machine that held copies of the Galveston County Daily News, the very first newspaper ever published in Texas. I stared at the front, realizing it was not recent. The date at the top right read September 11, 2008. The day we had evacuated. I dropped 50 cents into the coin slot and saw a stack of perhaps 15 papers inside. They were still wet.

The front headline seems ghostly now.

Hurricane Ike
That's the moment that really brought it home for me, in this silent hallway of a once-bustling building. Life had stopped there. The first floor had been under water. I took the top newspaper and spread it out in the back of my SUV. It dried over the past couple of days, and I can almost separate the pages now. It's crusty and moldy and yellow, and I shouldn't keep it, but I can't throw it away.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Month Out

I left Seton hospital a month ago… seems like a blur now! I catch myself thinking, “Was I really part of one of the biggest evacuations of the past half-century or did I hallucinate that?!” And now I'm just trying to get my body and brain back into shape...

I finally dug out my roller-blades, and enjoyed a 5-mile roll, which felt so amazing! The fluid motion of skating uses different muscles than running, though I’ve had almost no soreness, because I stretch extensively each day. I’m also lifting weights again, working slowly back toward my previous routines. I’m running a few times per week, and have reached two miles – though sometimes I have to walk in between. My body appears to need more water, and more rest afterward.

With apologies to everyone, friends & strangers alike, who emailed me recently…I was visiting family in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and am only now catching up. Some Q&A for newer messages:

Just about everyone I know from everywhere asks: How is the rehab going? Are you still in a lot of pain?
Yes and no on the pain thing. Exercising isn’t the chore it was at the beginning, but I’m still stiff first thing in the morning. It takes less movement to shake it off now, but I notice I must be careful about sitting or lying in the same position for too long. For instance, I used to sit in front of my PC all day with little effort, but now my neck and back aches after only a short period. I’d have to say, though, that the only genuine PAIN I have recently felt was after putting on high-heeled shoes and attempting to walk in them. I’ve done that twice… once just to see if I could and once to go out with friends. It was a less-than-smashing idea.

Chris Fuhs of Nebraska asks: Take care of yourself. I think this has been harder on you physically than you let on in your blog?
LOL, yes… I refrained from writing about it regularly because it would unintentionally sound like a litany of whining. “My back hurts, my knees hurt, my feet hurt, blah blah blah.” I tried not to dwell on it, because I knew it was temporary, and I’m a very disciplined exerciser. Now that the rough part has passed, it’s easy to look back with blithe dismissal, since I was forewarned about everything that would happen to my body while simulating spaceflight.

The worst part was the fatigue. Actually, “fatigue” isn’t even the word for it… this was a kind of exhaustion I have never felt before, not even during bouts of flu. I’m sleeping deeply, and napping (now that I can!), but every now and then I am overcome with a combination of drowsiness and muscle-weariness that is debilitating. Sometimes it comes on suddenly, and I just have to sit or lie down quickly. My fitness goal is become even stronger than I was before, in both mind and body, but sometimes fatigue can interfere with motivation… I’m just trying never to let that happen for more than a few hours at a time! When all else fails, I just charge out of the house and walk, run, walk, run, walk, run.

Karyn K. of Austin, TX asks: Be honest now, so are you just watching TV?? You are glued to CNN and the debates, aren’t you.
Tempting! ;) But no, I don’t have any channels at home. It was nice to have them for awhile on the ward TVs, but now I only see news at the gym for short periods. At home, I watch DVDs, and I did finish up the “Twin Peaks” series I'd been watching at UTMB. Also, hockey season just started, so I go to my brother’s house a few nights per week and we watch Sharks games on Satellite.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Featured on NASA Web

While in the Spaceflight Simulation Study, Devin and I were both interviewed by a NASA Education Writer of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Heather R. Smith.

From the main page, http://www.nasa.gov/ click the top left link For Educators. Under Educator Features and Articles, click View Archive and scroll down to the 09.23 feature entitled Lying Around.

I missed it's appearance on the "front page" but now it's part of the archives! The direct link is: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/lying-around.html

This was so well-written, and unlike some other "in the news" experiences, no one attempted to sensationalize or trivialize. Our quotes were woven into the prose precisely as given, so I truly enjoyed this one. The author concentrated on the mechanics of the study, added the element of how we felt during certain phases, and further included "study value" comments by scientists Joe Neigut and Ronita Cromwell -- among the last people to leave Galveston on evacuation day after ensuring we would be cared for.

Never in a million years did I dream I would share a square-foot of print with Peggy Whitson! Now why couldn't THAT have happened before my 20-year high school reunion?? ;)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Mile Mark

After an exhausting week, I'm pleased to say I walked a mile for the first time today! I've been building up to it, trying to move a further each day around my neighborhood. I exercise first thing when I get up, so there's no avoiding it (otherwise, I think I'd just give in to the fatigue and sleep all day!) I've also revved up into a run a few times, but stop almost immediately due to nausea.

Those first steps out of bed are still the toughest. Everything I loosen and stretch the day before just stiffens up again, and I get shooting pains through my heels and calves. I take a few moments to straighten my spine, and stomp around until it's gone, but it's frustrating how long it's hanging on. Sounds screwy, but picking up the feet and setting them down very hard actually helps. Our physical therapist actually had us jumping off steps directly onto our heels -- I guess it helps convince the body that we are using our legs again, and strengthens the bones.

Makes sense, right? But why does the body need re-convincing every day?! That pretty much sums up my first week at home: two steps forward, one step back. I'm also having depth perception problems. I keep swiping walls and door knobs in my house, because my eyes misinterpret how close I am to solid objects.

While Googling articles on gravitational effects, I found something which explains a lot about why I feel so disoriented:

ZeroG Makes Astronauts Dangerous Drivers

Some interesting excerpts:
"low gravity adversely affects ability to judge size and distance... suggesting that astronauts' perception problems are a physiological issue, not a result of adaptation to enclosed environments."

"Study of the impact of microgravity on spatial awareness and movement is going to become more important as we try to land on Mars or on the Moon after very prolonged space flights."

"NASA has long suspected something goes wrong with visual perception in space. Apollo astronauts reported difficulties judging distance while on the moon, for example: far-off rocks and features seemed closer than they really were."

I heard from Devin, and he made it to Georgia to pick up his motor home, and is now headed for Iowa to see his family! He also mentioned in the middle of the afternoons he "keeps falling asleep." LOL... glad to know I am not the only one!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Road Trip! (Houston)

Heather Direct Sunlight!

So there we were, loose in Texas, free to roam... or rather, forced to roam. When we were preparing to leave UTMB, the Wyle folks arranged flights for each of us to get back home. Since we were transported to Austin via ambulance, I was close enough to have my family fetch me, but Devin had a few wrinkles. He lived in Iowa, but had driven to the study and left his truck with relatives outside Houston. We didn't figure we'd have much trouble, since we weren't trying to enter the city itself, but we underestimated how much the damage had affected all of southern Texas.

We set out from Georgetown, but were advised not to take the main highway toward Houston, which is US Route 290. So we headed north toward Hearne, and planned to go down through College Station... mostly to avoid any road closures. We played tourist briefly at the Bush Presidential Museum & Library, to exercise our legs and see a space display with a model of Shuttle Atlantis.


Space Exhibit, Bush Museum

It was smooth sailing into Navasota, but on Highway 6 we saw signs flashing "Do Not Attempt To Reach Houston" and "All Brazos County Shelters Full." Any time we pulled off at a stop or a junction to change roads, we ran into traffic caused by dead stoplights.

We increasingly spied debris, work crews, and empty gasoline stations that had been closed due to power loss (some had gas but no way to work the pumps). Even a good 100 miles north of Houston, lights were out, water was off and the one fuel attendant we spoke to said he expected a supply truck that day, but there was no telling when they would show. There were over 100 cars lined up, just waiting for a CHANCE that gasoline might arrive. And we were nowhere near where the greatest force of the storm had struck! Inside the mini-marts, shelves were picked clean and the coolers had defrosted, giving off a watery, metal odor -- but the worst was the "sour milk" stench from all the melted ice cream.

Buzzy swamp bugs and mosquitoes were everywhere, and we had to keep shooing them out of the car each time we stopped to stretch or walk around to keep our bodies from becoming stiff and sore. We finally made it to Devin's family ranch in Magnolia, passing numerous crews clearing trees from power lines; water pools still blanketed much of the ground... yet more breeding grounds for bugs! We truly could not believe the devastation, and it made me shudder to think of what the coast must look like, because I had the sinking feeling I was seeing the absolute least of what Hurricane Ike had wrought.

We drove alonside a train at one point, with Devin filming and waving, then laughed when the engineer caught sight of us and blew the whistle. They were towing many tank cars, and we speculated as to whether they were trying to get gasoline to the south, given how difficult it was for trucks to get around.

The trip back wasn't too fun, since I had to drive myself the entire way. Devin headed to Georgia to pick up his motor home, and I headed back to Georgetown. I was pretty tired by then, and had to stop many times because my legs were constantly shaking. Even with cruise control, I was surprised how much it took out of me energy-wise just to drive! I got home around 9:00pm... and I'm pretty sure I've been asleep since then. What day is it????

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Q&A in the Real World

Mantic59 asks: I know Texas is in a “State of Emergency” and was declared a disaster area. Will NASA let you "restart" the study at a later date?
Sarcasmo answers: Nah, we were too far along to start again, and the staff said that after any long-term study, we must wait a year before being eligible again. At this point, we would not pass the original physical screening.
Pillownaut Answers: More recent check-ins might be able to restart. However the facility’s first floor at UTMB is flooded and has no power, so I don't see them resuming regular operations anytime soon. We hope to travel there and visit when it does, just because we so worried about what happened to everyone!

ZwedishPzycho asks: Would you consider coming back for a second attempt at the whole thing? Would NASA let you?
Sarcasmo answers: If I had another shot, absolutely!
Pillownaut Answers: In a heartbeat.

Christy says: I bet it was weird to just stop laying down. Hey the good news is that you can have chocolate and pizza again :)
Pillownaut answers: Many of you are doing what we’re doing – finding that silver lining! We’ve had many discussions along the lines of enjoying all the things we CAN do now, such as WALK, order restaurant food, take proper showers, etc...
Sarcasmo answers: Yeah, we’ll probably always be bummed that we couldn’t finish our project, but I am glad I'm out while there is still some summer left, so I can travel to see some friends and family.

Roz of San Jose, CA asks: Could they not continue the tests after the hurricane?
AJ from Honduras asks: I'm sorry it had to end prematurely. I read somewhere in your blog that you'd have your beds wheeled out in case of an emergency. Since this was anticipated, couldn't they have wheeled you to ambulances or helicopters and put you in some other hospital? I'm just asking because it would've saved a lot of days/money worth of science studies.
Pillownaut Answers: We were also told that in the event of evacuation, we would be moved in a van at –6 and continue the study at a facility at JSC. However, while the emergency was “anticipated,” we actually left quite late. They originally evacuated the Florida Keys for Ike, and thought it would never reach Texas! When Hurricane Rita hit Galveston a few years back, they got the evacuation order a week before. We didn’t get an order until two days before impact.
Sarcasmo Answers: This was also a question of MAGNITUDE. Ike grew to the size of Texas itself. Normally, they said we'd move to the Space Center... but we then found Houston was also being evacuated! Any place they could have taken us where the same equipment existed and the medical personnel knew all our protocols… well, they were also being rushed north.
Pillownaut adds: Yep, priorities changed. All we could do was get clear to a regular hospital. Asking anyone to stay and worry about our particular diets and data would have been impossible, when they had to worry about their families and homes too.

Kim asks: It's been a pleasure to learn about the 'pillownauts' contribution to science. I'm glad we haven't bothered ya'll too much :) With your interest in space, I have one question, do you have to have a PhD to become an astronaut?
Sarcasmo Answers: We’re glad you enjoyed it! It's definitely never been a bother... we’ve had fun writing together, and will continue to do so as long as we get questions. I'm headed out, but I will still keep in touch by phone if Q&A continues.
Pillownaut Answers: The majority of the 300+ people who are or have been in the astronaut corps hold PhDs or multiple masters degrees in many sciences… most were pilots, most were in the military at some point of their lives, and a few were school teachers. However, to be an astronaut candidate, it’s never been a non-negotiable requirement. Neil Armstrong did not have a PhD. He had a bachelors and masters, and was given some honorary doctorates after walking on the moon. Reading some of the biographies of Active Astronauts, International Astronauts, Former Astronauts and Deceased Astronauts shows an incredible range of backgrounds, education, and accomplishments! Definitely worth the read.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Breaking Atmo

We took a few brief clips today as we returned to normal life...

Here I am driving Heather's SUV into Georgetown.

My interview of Miss H in her living room.

Turning Of The Page

The end of one story, the beginning of another. Today, we checked out of Seton Northwest Hospital in Austin, TX to begin our journey back to reality.

Funny story – the hospital Administrator & COO, Charles Durant, came up behind me and Devin while we were walking the hallways and asked, “Are you the Pillownauts?” LOL, yes we are! How did you know that word?? News traveled among the staff – at that point, the tremendously exhausted staff, who were all working extra because the hospital was crammed with evacuees. We thanked him for the hospitality during our stay, and let him know we’d had good experiences with the doctors, nurses and physical therapy crew. Thanks Chuck!

Pillow Nauts
Brent also came by this morning for our last exercise session… tormenting us on the stairs today! After that, we were all evaluated by our doctors and released. Marcus went to the airport to catch his plane to Seattle. So long Don Marco! Dánae, aka "Magic Fingers," agreed to get Dumb & Dumber back to civilization. Here is our last Pillownauts group photo, outside the Seton Lobby.

For all other photos of people in the study before the hurricane. see our UTMB Subjects Gallery -- also added to the PHOTO*Galleries in the sidebar.

Here are the photos we took before and after the hurricane, loaded into the Evacuation & Rehab Gallery ... showing all our adventures on the road and during recovery.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Crash Course Rehab

Heather: Here we are, "Three Healthy Cripples," almost able to walk normally. We waited until we were feeling better to describe rehab, because anything we wrote in the past few days would have just sounded like an out-of-tune chorus of OW OUCH OOH OW OW OW OW OUCH OW... (pretty boring).

Devin: We also went from a military sleep pattern to late nights, and also staying up all hours to check the news for hurricane updates. However, one good thing that happened was we all lost the puffiness in our faces, so no more fat-heads.

Heather: Yes, his good looks are intact ;) Getting out of bed in the morning is perhaps the hardest thing. Everything tightens up overnight, but as we move around throughout the day, the achy stiffness lessens and we do laps around the hallways. Marcus can already work up to a slow run, and Devin can navigate stairs now with minimal pain. He's the baby of the bunch and I'm the old lady here, so I'm bringing up the rear.



Devin: Yep, everyone's symptoms and pace are a bit different. For the most part, everyone has horribly sore calves and ankles. Another thing we all have in common is pain in the neck (haha, not just a cliché!) because we have not held our own heads up for months. When I first rose from bed, my calves got all swollen, almost tripling in size. Today is the first day the swelling has come down to almost normal, and I can flex to see what's left of the muscle. In other words, I went from jelly to jello. Not quite the chiseled gladiator I used to be. Marcus has problems in his hips as well as low back pain... and Heather had a little swelling and couldn't get into her shoes again, but that has also gone down. She no longer does the little ballerina spin before she's about to fall over.

Heather: Like I could spin, LOL... but it's nice to see improvement each afternoon. The day we rose from -6, we exerted ourselves too much. We felt good after the initial adjustment, but should have taken it easier that day, because we sure paid for it later! On Day 2, when I got up and tried to limp down the hallway, I thought: "This is what it must feel like to be about 120 years old."

Devin: We're using wheelchairs on occasion, but we've all had a noticeable increase in strength and fluidity of motion... except when Brent is torturing us. He is the exercise physiologist who did all our baseline tests. He and his wife Julie, a Phys. Ed. instructor, came up from Houston to conduct physical therapy with us each day. They basically monitor our work with weights, exercises and stretching routines, then report our progress to the Project Heads at NASA so they can decide when we should be released to go home.


With Brent in the Physical Therapy room

Heather: One of our coordinators, Rene, also brought us mexican food yesterday from Chuy's, a local favorite and our first restaurant meal! This should give you a sense of the ongoing dedication of the people at JSC and UTMB -- because folks like Rene and Brent are also recent evacuees. One lives on Galveston Island, the other in Houston, and both had to outrun Ike as we did. They are staying in Austin, waiting to hear when they can go home again.

Devin: Definitely going above and beyond the call of duty, we couldn't ask for more. We appreciate all their attention even though they must have a thousand other things on their minds. We know we are in good hands.

Heather: My family has been just as awesome. Dánae, my sister-in-law, is a massage therapist, and since our regular one wasn't able to visit, she's taken over that part of our rehabilitation. She made three very sore people VERY happy! Massages may sound trivial or like simple "pampering" on the surface, but when your muscles are practically water and your circulatory system is re-adapting, they become monumentally important to overall function. My brother Vince and my nephew Reece have also visited each day, bringing pizza and chinese food! We're eating SOME healthier foods in the normal hospital meals, but it's been fun to have some comfort foods too! Can't wait until we can go to a restaurant...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hometown Headlines

Here is the newspaper I usually get delivered at home, the Austin-American Statesman, and this is the first time I've seen it since July:

Hurricane Ike
Also got a phone call from one of the staff, saying the first floor of UTMB was flooded... so, we are increasingly relieved to have evacuated when we did.

Thank you so much again to everyone who made kind overtures -- and NO, it is not selfish at all to ask questions about our medical aftermath -- it keeps us busy and gives us something to do other than sit around whining about how much our legs hurt ;) We are happy to know folks are interested enough to express concern, and we are truly touched by how many people have said they are pulling for us.

If anything, we felt like we should pipe down about our tiny personal experience with such a gigantic evacuation, given how many hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and how many MILLIONS are now without power or assessing storm damage... but, we only have the power to work through each day, trying to take care of ourselves and each other.

We caused something of a stir among the nurses and patients here. Someone poked their head into my room this morning and said, "Are you one of the NASA people?" He wanted to ask about our study, and many of the nurses have asked for details. The hospital chaplain even descended upon Devin, wanting to know about the criteria for screening! So we are in the good hands of people who are watching us closely for problems, and also helping us reach our fitness goals each day! :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Voted Off The Island

Where to begin... we have been through so much in the past two days! But first let me just mention we are safe and sound at Seton Hospital in Austin, and we thank everyone for all the calls, emails and comments! This has been a scary venture, and if we thought we had bonded during our unique medical experience, what we've been through now brought us together like never before.

Devin: And second, let me just say: Gravity Sucks. It HURTS.

Heather: Yes it does. After we got an evacuation order, we heard the entire gulf coast might be ordered out, and we only had a short time to get clear of Galveston Island. Our procedure for getting out of bed was accelerated.

Devin: I've seen a few people rise from bed rest. On day 91, they repeat the TILT TEST that we took at the beginning. Long story short, at a normal project-end, we are tilted upward for a brief time, but then leveled down again. A day later is "wheelchair" time. On day 3, you then rise from bed and (try to) walk under close supervision, held by nurses on either side.

Heather: We had to do this in 3 hours instead of 3 days. However, knowing that we were outrunning a possibly fatal storm, adrenaline took over! We each had our beds put level (no more -6 degree slant), but didn't feel much different. About fifteen minutes later, the beds were put an upward incline so our heads came forward. Everyone's blood pressure started to climb at this point, so we just stayed that way for awhile until we each felt like coming fully upright. I had immediate symptoms of disorientation when I turned to dangle my feet over the edge of the bed. They were all tingly! Deron and Kjell visited... they were already making laps around the ward at that point and seemed to be fine. The next blood pressure check was a horrifying number... never seen my BP that high! So I sat back awhile before trying to stand. Then Devin walked by the door.

Devin: I was furthest along at day 78, Heather was on day 50, and Marcus was on day 35. I had major foot pain... luckily no dizziness, but definitely felt very heavy as Nurse Cheryl walked me around. I stood in Heather's doorway and watched her get onto her feet. She came over to give me a hug for the first time.

Getting out of bed...

Heather: I'd never seen him standing before! I immediately felt like I had knives shooting into the soles of my feet, and it was weird to think I had not used my feet in nearly 2 months. I was less steady than Devin, but I knew they had wheelchairs at every door in case we needed to sit on short notice. While all this was going on, people were also bustling about, throwing things into our suitcases, cleaning out rooms, rushing to cover equipment in plastic, unplugging computers and other hardware. Mary, one of our coordinators, brought around packages of Skittles. The diet regiment was over!

Devin: Heather was so mesmerized by my good looks that she then had to run and buy me a bottle of Coca-Cola!

Heather: That's just what I said to get $1.50 out of you for the vending machine.

Devin: You lie. So we had a good sugar buzz going. We put on our NASA shirts, and despite being wobbly, we did a "50-year" photo shoot. It was hugs all around until Deron and Kjell had to leave for the airport, and the majority of the staff departed.

The Bedrest Bunch

Heather: We sure hope Deron and Kjell are able to return and start again, though unfortunately, we who had been head-down longer are de-conditioned, so the study is over for us. We may have follow-up testing, but cannot begin the campaign again in our current state. We look totally drunk tottering around barely able to balance!

Devin: The skeleton crew fed and watered us over the next few hours, as we reminisced over our time in the study. We swapped war stories, and even in what many might consider a moment of tragedy, I, Sarcasmo, rallied the troops and kept everyone's morale high with my comedic humor. Truly, many Hallmark moments. Especially when Heather collapsed in the cafeteria when we went for sandwiches.

Heather: Yes, ironic that I was the first to hit the floor, considering Marcus asked for a wheelchair first! We were told that sort of thing was normal, but I underestimated how incredibly FAST it can happen. One moment everything felt fine, the next, my legs wouldn't lock. You just have to rest in between limping about. We were finally called down to the lobby to get in "line" -- or rather, join the masses of beds, people, IV poles and oh my lord! I've been in fire drills, but never seen anything like this. You would not believe what it takes to evacuate an entire hospital campus, much less a whole island.

Devin: Organized chaos! Buses and emergency vehicles as far as the eye could see, down every street... I kept thinking of the movie "Convoy." 56,000 were being displaced in a fairly short period, and we found out later, more than 200,000 in Houston and across the Gulf Coast zip codes. We saw water pumps and sand bags coming in, and thus began the Three Amigos Ambulance Adventure!

The Triple-A

We got on the road in a fleet of ten ambulances headed north to various hospitals. We give a big shout out to Ashley and Jodi, our EMTs from St. Louis Emergency Services, deployed by FEMA. They're driving up and down Texas, sleeping in the back of their rig, making sure invalids like us make it to safety. It took 6 hours to reach the capital, and we checked in around 2:00am for some much-needed sleep. Way past our 10:00pm bedtime!

Heather: So that was yesterday. Today can be summed up in one word: PAIN. Our muscles are springing to life again, and like most people, we are glued to the news, watching Hurricane Ike. The route our ambulance took less than 24 hours ago is now under water! So although we are sorry to see our project end, we think they made the right decision and we are pretty darned glad not to be on Galveston! And we are very concerned for all the folks who had to evacuate their homes... we now know first-hand how alarming this upheaval can be.

Devin: Absolutely... our deepest sympathies to our extended UTMB family, many of whom had to pack and leave very quickly, and we hope they don't suffer any damages or losses! Everyone is in our thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Sad news today. This morning, the entire island of Galveston prepared to evacuate. The projected path of the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico looks to be right on target to hit us. It may or may not, but the mayor and hospital administrators aren't going to chance it. We all rose a few hours ago and have been coping with gravity! No easy task when trying to pack to outrun a lethal storm!

So, here we are, Back on Earth. We are sad and disappointed, and it's hard not to be angry at the weather -- because of course we all would have preferred to finish our studies. Deron and Kjell, who had been down a shorter time, were driven to the airport and will fly home. Devin, Marcus and I may have health concerns now, because we've been head-down longer, and will require rehabilitation.

We three are now sitting upright, having a meal together and awaiting medical vehicles to arrive and drive us to a hospital in Austin, where we will continue re-conditioning and physical therapy.

We took some group photos this morning as we bid the staff farewell. We're pretty bummed NASA couldn't get more data out of us, but we're all pleased that many of us hit good milestones where our tests will be added to existing databanks.

The priority right now is simply to outrun the monster storm. So please keep all the good folk of the Texas coast in your thoughts and prayers, and we'll all check in again when we have an internet connection again!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cardiovascular Functions

Some of the most commonly repeated tests are heart and blood vessel measurements... barely a week goes by without some combination of them. Usually, we only have a light breakfast of fruit before these, and then when the suite of tests are done, we have the rest of the meal.

On the main TESTS list page, there are new links to the three main Cardiovascular Tests, most of which are done at the same time, or in varied combinations with Reactive Hyperemia, where they inflate blood pressure cuffs on our arms and legs for about 7 minute intervals, and take measurements of vessels all over the body...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Would you?

Space Travel
Exlcuding the goofy Muppet reference... and you had the cash just... lying around ;)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Chamitoff Reaches 100 Days

I've been following this chap because, technically, we're both feeling similar micro-gravity effects and also because we both go home at the same time in November, LOL... I'm quite sure he's working a great deal harder than I am, so I try not to begrudge the fact that HE gets to ride home on Space Shuttle Endeavor when I have to fly Southwest Airlines.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested in life on Earth's space station 220 miles up, Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff was assigned to Expedition 17 and flew to the ISS on STS-124 Discovery, launching on 31 May 2008. He replaced Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who many of you may have seen on his two appearances on the Colbert Report (pictured below "on TV" and also in an interview clip on a past post in July).

NASA astronautsGarrett Reisman & Gregory Chamitoff

I posted a brief video of Greg back in my mention of the NASA Channel. You can keep up on his chess games with Houston ground control, and he also just did another Q&A session, where 7-year-old Emily from Idaho asked him: "Why we can't get gravity and put it in a jar?!" I'm with her ;)

In the News...

I am not sure if I should be amused or alarmed by these items in the morning news...

Stephen Colbert - NASA

Stephen Colbert interviews Astronaut
'Well Above-Average' Hurricane Season For 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Day 58 of the study, and day 45 of the bed rest phase! Hard to believe! It seems to have gone swiftly to this point, but I find myself wondering if it will seem slower on the downhill side. Not too much happening at the moment... many consecutive days with no procedures for little moi. The newest head-down crowd also had some delays. We all went on high alert when it looked like Hurricane Gustav was potentially headed our way, but didn’t get even a drop of rain, so testing resumed soon after. Next week will see repeats of dorsal vein tests for me... I’ll be interested to see if those or other tests show any blog-worthy changes.

There are now definitely some noticeable physical and mental changes... the most irritating of which is that I cannot read for long periods anymore; either my focus wanders, or I feel like I might doze off, so I must vary my activities a bit more often to stay alert, particularly in the late afternoon. Things like meals, exercise and showers help, and I find I’m also listening to louder music throughout the day. My mother must have seen that coming – she just mailed me a heavy metal CD, which utterly cracked me up!

My neck seems like it’s always a bit stiff, though that may simply be normal tension from using the laptop & mouse a great deal during the day. Typing upward is getting to be more of a challenge, as I notice my arms have weakened. It seems to take a slightly more effort to type or write, though I still do plenty of both. The soles of my feet are tingly to the touch now, and they are baby soft from lack of use. I was told to expect all of this, and it is indeed occurring! They ask daily if I have pain anywhere, and other than intermittent sinus pressure, my answer is almost always no.

One weird thing that I hadn’t predicted is random eye-watering episodes. For no reason, sometimes my eyes glaze over and secrete excess unexpectedly. Perhaps my tear ducts simply chose this time to rebel against being upside down?? There is rarely any warning or pattern for it... I won’t have any foreign object in my eye or be engaged in a weepy movie... sometimes I just move my head to the side or blink, and lacrimal fluid slides down my temples. Harmless but odd.

I’ve settled into a routine here, and I think at this point I’ve met all of the staff involved, even those who only come and go infrequently. Overall I just feel a bit tired sometimes, but I’m so pleased with all I have been able to read, write and accomplish! I updated my Activities List, and there are new pieces of mail in the Postcard Exchange. For everyone who emailed me this past week, Devin and I did a marathon of card-writing so check your mailboxes! :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Neuroscience Team & Test

The description of our Functional Neurological Assessment has been added to the TEST section, and here is an interview with some of my favorite folks to work with here, two members of the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Division.

Matthew Fiedler - Biomedical Engineer - Neurosciences Labs
Born in the quiet farming village of Scranton, Iowa, which he describes as “miles from nowhere,” Matthew earned his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Exercise Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Good to know NASA recruits in Captain Kirk’s homestead… describe what you mean by a quiet farming village?
Matthew: Scranton is a peaceful place where folks are practiced in the art of plain living. There is sun and rain enough for the crops to grow, the animals to graze and the birds to sing. I like to take my daughter there when I can. Altogether there are no more than a few hundred people in and around my home town. It's the kind of place where the graduating seniors would drive their tractors around the school honking horns and cheering.

And how did you get on the path to pursuing a job at the Johnson Space Center?
Matthew: I was contacted by Wyle (NASA subcontractor) a little over a year ago. I had never expected to be involved in the space program, and since coming here it has been one nice surprise after another…I enjoy the quality of my colleagues and the working atmosphere at NASA. I feel fortunate to be working in a strong engineering and research environment.

NASA Neuro Team
Of course I only see you when I do balance tests at UTMB, but what other types of work do you do in the "home office laboratory"?
In addition to the -6 bed rest I am involved in several other projects. In a related study, I am part of a team developing the lunar analog simulation which resembles head down bed rest only the bed is tilted up 9.5 degrees. This mimics the condition of being on the moon and allows scientist and engineers to study the physiological effects of lunar gravity on humans.

I’ve seen the gear, it's awesome to think we'll use it on the moon! When you’re not with us, do you work with actual astronauts?
Yes, I study concepts of postural stability (or lack thereof) in the astronauts returning from space and how terrestrial space suit design affects the stability of the person inside it. Personnel in the neuroscience lab study the effects of different motion environments on humans, pre-flight adaptation and virtual reality training, and sensorimotor stimulus.

Have you ever done these tests yourself?
I have been tested on the platform a number of times. The first time is memorable because it is such a novel experience. It is a good test for the body's physiological systems related to balance. Reading your blog often, by the way... and you explain the science and "reasons for the science" in such clear terms it makes me happy.

Good to know! And always feel free to jump in with corrections so I know I'm getting this stuff right as I learn about it too...
Johnson Space Center TeamJulie Esteves - Research Specialist - Neurosciences Laboratory
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Julie attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where she earned a B.A. in Biology and Psychology with a Neuroscience concentration. She started her research career in San Diego but soon decided she’d rather be closer to her family, and moved near her sister in Houston.

So how did you get on the path to pursuing a job at the Johnson Space Center?
“I've always been interested in the space program. Who isn't?? And I was even more curious when I found out about the available opportunities. To be honest, I wasn't aware they even had a Neurosciences lab onsite! It's great to be a part of this enormous effort and it's especially rewarding to see so many disciplines working together. I was drawn to the Flight Analog Project and about how we can mimic spaceflight in order to study its effects on the human body. It's not just about going to the moon and Mars (although that is unbelievably exciting), but we can also apply this research to our everyday life here on Earth.”

What is most important about your area of expertise?
The balance control system helps keep the astronauts safe after spaceflight by ensuring they are able to go back to their normal routines. Driving and bending down become harder, since their bodies need time to re-adapt to Earth's gravity. This same posture system is also used the test the elderly and patients with inner ear problems.

Have you ever done these tests yourself so you get a feel for what astronauts and FAs go through?
I'm actually now in the process of finishing up my Air Force Class III physical in order to participate as a subject in several different projects, including a normative Balance Control study, so I've been asked not to be tested on the posture platform just yet. While I was at the Human Test Subject Facility, however, I met someone who's been a subject at JSC for over 20 years and was involved in a study which led to the shuttle's onboard hygiene system! The study required a strict "no showering or washing your hair at home" policy and only taking care of personal hygiene at the study site.”

Yeah, what a shame there is no blog for that study ;)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ongoing Q&A

Devin rolled over to my room for a visit, so we could type weekly Q&A... and brought his pet fish so he could (and I am not making this up) "take Sharkie for a walk." Time for another psyche assessment dude.

GregL of Santa Clara asks: If you have an evacuation, does that end the test? Or do they take you inland and keep going?
Pillownaut answers: I was told before I started that if we must evacuate for a hurricane, we would be wheeled on a gurney into a sizeable vehicle, and driven to a safe destination off the island. Each time a storm has come “within range,” we’ve gotten phone calls from Wyle, who ask if we wish to leave voluntarily, though no one has elected to do so.
Sarcasmo answers: NASA can make their own decision to evacuate earlier as well, and we can go with the other UTMB patients to whatever safe facility everyone was heading... say, if we couldn’t get to Houston due to flooding in between I guess.

We had to research other possible events, because I only knew the weather drill. So…
Nurse Tammy says: In the event of a localized emergency such as a fire… it would depend on where fire broke out. We can roll beds to other wards and close fireproof doors behind us. If that isn’t possible, and we cannot use the elevators, all subjects would immediately have to sit up. We have special Garaventa Evacu-Trac CD7 Evacuation Chairs inside wall units. Every subject would be fastened into one of these and "rolled" (or really, "slid") down the stairs. In both cases, the study would end. Whether wheeled out or down, subjects would ultimately be flown home to complete rehabilitation somewhere near where they live.

Cindy Heitman of Lena, IL asks: I was wondering about the meds they are injecting. Is there anything that may come back to haunt you later in life? Did you sign a waiver releasing them from responsibility if something happens to you as a result of the tests, or even if you get an infection at an IV site? I work in a hospital and know how "bugs" run rampant there.
Pillownaut answers: If we have any problems as a result of testing, they are committed to treating us. Of course, we all hope we have no long-term ‘hauntings,’ but the truth is we just don’t know. I asked the same question during screening, and we were given a written description of everything that would be injected. The medications have one or many of the following effects:
  • Constrict blood vessels
  • Enlarge or relax blood vessels
  • Treat nasal congestion or reduce inflammation
  • Raise or lower blood pressure
  • Raise or lower heartbeat rate

And yes, we definitely signed stacks of papers. It boiled down to us accepting "reasonable risk." Also, the meds are given in such tiny amounts that side effects are rare. The worst I’ve had is headaches from the meds that widen vessels, and among the group, some other subjects have described mild to severe nausea. Fingers crossed that it never gets any worse than that!
Sarcasmo answers: One of the papers we signed said that if anything happened, they would cover all the medical care… we’d be transferred into the UTMB complex as a regular patient. I suppose if it was something we didn’t disclose, like a pre-existing medical condition, it would be our own deal – but if it’s caused by the study, they take care of us before sending us home. I also got a headache from the nitro, but that’s common for everyone, even heart patients who take it by prescription for cardiac events.

DevRay of Austin, TX asks: Er, dear heart, 12 pull-ups is actually pretty good compared to some of us who can’t even do one. Are you TRYING to make us sick?
Pillownaut answers: LOL, no not in the least, and I apologize to anyone who looked at that and imagined a comparison. I only compare myself to what I used to be able to do at a younger age. Back in high school I could fire those out during the fitness tests every year, and I simply cannot anymore. That was genuinely all I meant.
Sarcasmo answers: Okay sissies, here’s what a real man can do. I did 36 of those bad-boys. FEEL THE BURN. The second try, I did 42.
Pillownaut: Okay see now we know why I felt like a wimp for doing 12. I could SO outrun you though ;)

Patrick in Connecticut asks:
1) How much space do you get for stuff?
2) Are hand weights allowed? Webcams?
3) When moved, do nurses push the beds or do you get land oars?
4) Have you considered trying to contact Mike Rowe to get him to shoot part of an episode of Dirty Jobs on the bedrest study? You may not get dirty, but I think it would fit in rather well for an episode, given how the study is at times.

Pillownaut answers: Space-wise, we each have a closet of shelves and a 3-drawer dresser. We also have a table on each side of the bed where we stack books and DVDs, but mostly those are for our laptops and meal trays. No handweights allowed, but yes on the webcams, a few folks have had those. And sorry, I had to google Mike Rowe, as I have never seen that show.
Sarcasmo answers: They requested we keep luggage to a minimum due to limited space. I drove down, so I left my suitcase in my car. Those who fly just set them behind furniture. We’re told to bring 7 days worth of clothing, and that’s really all you need. They wash our laundry weekly. We are not allowed to push ourselves with anything. Some previous study subjects could reach to the floor and move the bed along, but that is no longer allowed. The new rule is two staff per bed in terms of rolling us around… although that might just be to avoid smacking the beds into the wall! Good idea on Dirty Jobs! Not so much for the subjects, but maybe he could do the nursing job here for a day ;)

Want to see some (more interesting!) Q&A ? Click here for Astronaut Greg Chamitoff's recent written and video replies from the International Space Station! I love the part where he and Sergei Volkov give one another haircuts...

Monday, September 1, 2008


There is a new link on the sidebar for a Postcard Exchange.

Many people have requested space-themed cards from me, and my family/friends are also sending a great collection of incoming images... (I figure I am not spending anything on gasoline, I may as well make it up in stamps!) I have dozens outgoing at this point and will certainly continue until I return home.

Would you like a NASA postcard? Email me at hra2362@yahoo.com, as also noted in my profile contact section. I have a great stash of cards from the Johnson Space Center and would be happy to address to your kids, class or any other recipient.

Care to send one to us to share your city, state or a nearby landmark that is special to you? It might be fun to see how many states and countries we can feature! Email me for our address and anything sent will guarantee a return :)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Land Family

I received an interesting email from Mrs. Lena Land of Oregon, another bed rest survivor! She came right out and called me crazy, LOL, so I gathered she had a different reason for hers. Upon corresponding, I found she underwent four months of bed rest during a difficult pregnancy, only getting up the restroom, and sitting up briefly to eat meals. Like folks in the lunar studies here, she wore compression stockings to prevent blood clots – given to her by her husband John, a surgeon. They were initially told that one of their children had only a 5% percent chance of surviving – and later, that since their twins might share a common blood source, if one died… so might the other.

Says Lena of her experience: “It was so difficult to endure, but at the end of the day it’s for a greater cause and that is what pulls you through. I had a song that inspired me: “It Is Well With My Soul.” I was admitted into the hospital where I had emergency ultrasounds, bed rest support groups (depressing!), pet therapy and great food at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. After Anna and Rosalee were born, my muscles had atrophied, so I had to use a wheelchair for a short while. I would do it again at the drop of a hat if it meant survival for my babies, but I’m not sure I would do it for the sake of science! My hats off to you though!

John and I have always considered our experience an incredible testament to the many advances in medicine/science (through imaging and early detection—“velamentous cord insertion” was our diagnosis), the strength we found together in our marriage during a difficult time, what endurance can do for the human spirit and most importantly we felt a direct connection with our Maker."

The happy result of Lena’s bedrest in 1999

Lena’s story also highlights for me one thing that I ponder frequently: the people who do this without a factor of choice. The consequences of being in bed for any extended length of time are not insignificant; Lena ended up with a bulging disc in her neck during bed rest, necessitating a soft collar and pain medication. Can you imagine chasing after twins once you’ve been through all that?! Even with what is being done to me procedurally, I cannot fathom doing this at home without medical staff – or with the daily fear that miscarriage might result if I didn’t stay still. I hope I never lose sight of the fact that while I’m trying to be as cooperative as possible for the sake of research, there are many people who go through this because they MUST – for safety, for health, or because they are unable to move.

All kinds of studies, including bed rest simulation, may prove beneficial for how we find our way to other worlds… but if this isn’t the best and most precious reason on our world to tough out this trial, I don’t know what is:

For Today: August 30th, 2008
Happy 9th Birthday Rosalee & Anna Land!

We enjoyed your emails, and your mama tells me this is a show & tell topic, which makes us very happy… so thanks for reading along, and keep an eye on your mailbox for a special NASA present from Pillownaut & Sarcasmo!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bag of Bones

Sarcasmo here. On day 64 of my NASA adventure, I did something I haven’t done in a long time... got up and sat in a chair! It was time for my mid-way bone density scans:

DEXA = Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry

pQCT = Peripheral Quantitative Computed Tomography

This is part of ongoing data collection. We underwent these tests upon entrance to the program, and they are repeated around the 60-day mark. The reason that milestone is important is because in the original study, the entire tilt duration was 60 days, and they add our data to that original database of previous subjects.


I missed it by a day, since there has been a lot of activity lately, being that we had more new recruits, Tim got out of his contraption recently, and Heather also had all her 30-day tests.

I know you’re saying, “Oh whoop de doo, he sat in a chair.” Well, after being tilted downward for 2 months, a few things CHANGE in your body. First off, the word "Tenderfoot" comes to mind. The moment my feet touched the floor, I felt hot pins-and-needles sensations. The next major development I can only describe as an elephant sitting on my chest – mostly from the changing of fluid from the upper body back to the legs and feet.

After lying at a head-down tilt that long in spaceflight simulation, transferring over to a wheelchair felt so "abnormal" -- as if I was always leaning forward too far, even though I knew I was sitting totally upright. When I got out of the wheelchair and lay on the flat surface of the DEXA scanner, it felt like I was not flat at all… almost as if my feet were in the air!

On the way to the DEXA SCAN

The tests took about 2 hours. The longer I was upright, some of the odd sensations receded and some new ones appeared. The weight on the chest dwindled quickly, but the tingling in the feet did not. I felt aches and pains, and weakness in my muscles. After all was said and done, they returned me to the tilted bed, and I instantly felt “back to normal” again. In conclusion, I was excited about getting up and walking around, but until I have to, I will be content with my -6 degree home.
Time will tell if my bone density has changed!


Click here for how to get a similar DEXA SCAN wherever you live! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Busy Busy Days

Also, a big milestone to report: today was Deron's "Head Down Day." We took a long walk (well, in my case, a gurney "roll") around the building this morning, and outside for some fresh air, so he could utilize his legs one last time... then at 11:00 am, he joined the ranks of the -6 degree club.

In other news, Devin just hit day 60, his two month mark. Only one month to go for Sarcasmo!

As for me, nothing new to report until mail call. My Sci-Fi buddies, Mr. & Mrs. L in California, shipped me this awesome Star Trek 30th Anniversary collectible, with Ken & Barbie filling in for Captain Kirk and Yeoman Rand. (I guess Mattel doesn't have a mold for Vulcan ears, pity.) What will they think of next?! I have never had a Barbie doll before that I can recall, and never thought I'd get my first at age 38, LOL... thanks guys! This has been one heck of a conversation piece around here!! Tich Tor Ang Tesmur :)


Monday, August 25, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Q&A

Solarmist (City not named) asks: Everyone maintains the same weight during the study, so that means they're making everyone fatter, by a good deal. Even though you have exercise in your schedules you're still going to lose muscle from lack of use and thus gain fat to keep you at the same weight. Wouldn't it make more sense to maintain body composition? Rather than weight?
Pillownaut answers: Our caloric intake is based on the Harris-Benedict equation, which considers height, weight, age & activity factors. By losing muscle mass but staying at the same "kilogram count," we are indeed replacing the loss with body fat, but not a huge amount. Their BMI requirement was very narrow, and we all had exceptionally low body fat to begin with. Just like astronauts, our overall health was among the reasons we were selected in the first place… and we don't get to change, offer input or question the NASA protocols.
Sarcasmo answers: I gained a bit at first, lost some when I first went head-down, but now I’m not fluctuating at all. Everything they said my body would do in terms of reaction has happened. I’m not worried about fat, and it will be easy to regain muscle again. It was all in the brochure. Like we said to the gent in the last Q&A who asked about exercise, “maintaining body composition” isn’t the goal. The aim it is to simulate what happens in space. Loss of muscle and replacement with fat cells is what happens in space.

Karin from Walnut Creek, CA asks: Looks like you spend a lot of time working ‘upwards,’ reaching for your laptop, or holding up a book to read. Doesn’t that exercise your arm muscles in ways that contradicts the rest of the study?
Pillownaut answers: Negative… we are encouraged to use our upper bodies. Astronauts use their arms and shoulders quite a bit. Just getting around in the space station requires armholds; its the legs that float more freely. They also type, write, hold books open, etc. In micro-gravity, there is far less weight to push or pull about, but they still come up against resistance. On spacewalks or repairs, they may also do precision tasks requiring pressure and muscle work. In a typical workday, crew members spend 12 hours working, 2 hours exercising, 1.5 hours preparing and eating meals, and 8.5 hours sleeping. So, they actually do far more than we can from a bed. They also have bikes, a rowing machine, and a floating treadmill (not anchored, so its vibrations don’t upset other experiments). For our protocols in mimicry, it's important to use the arms, but we’re told simply to keep the head and shoulders down.

Bonnie R in Boulder, CO asks: Sorry if this sounds stupid, but if you aren’t trying to stay in shape why do they bother with exercises at all? Wouldn’t the project take less time if you didn’t?
Pillownaut answers: Good point and I’m sorry, I should have elaborated on this last time (but sometimes these Q&A posts get pretty long, so I tend to answer the direct inquiry without deviating.) Anyway, NO question is stupid. Sometimes we are told things 3 or 4 times by various staff as we learn protocols, so we hear reasons repeatedly... but we can easily forget it may not be obvious to everyone else. This is a good example. When we say the word “exercise,” it may automatically conjure the assumption that we attempt to “stay in shape” or avoid muscle loss. However, the stretching routines are aimed primarily at AVOIDING BLOOD CLOTS, not so much for conditioning or flexibility. Thrombus becomes a health concern the longer you are head-down.
Sarcasmo answers: As time goes by, there are also changes in how nurses check us each day. They used to just check foot pulse; now they also press for shin pulse, ask me to press down with my feet, they bend my ankles, feel around the calves, and in any given area they probe for pain, soreness or tingling. The massages also change, first focusing on the back, but later more on legs and feet to ensure they stimulate circulation and again, avoid blood clots.

Dave asks: Okay so give it up, how many pull-ups DID you do?
Pillownaut answers: On the first baseline physical, that would be a raging NINE pull-ups before I said o dear me no, this isn't working for me. No matter how far or fast I can run, or what I can lift on machines, pull-ups just make me feel like a huge wimp. At the second session, I did twelve, and then I think I died for a few minutes. Brent, the exercise physiologist, peeled me off the floor and made all kinds of warm, fuzzy noises at me about how great I was doing… but I have been in contact with just enough fitness trainers to know that is Gym-Speak for: “They pay me to be encouraging even if you suck at this.”

Hockey Chica Barbie2b asks: When you have group movie nights do they show the movie on the ceiling so that you can all see it?
Pillownaut answers: Nah, they just project it off Devin’s ego... it’s the only thing around here that’s big enough.
Sarcasmo answers: Yeah yeah, its big, but its not a projection…actually just a reflection from the TV, which we just view sideways. I wondered why they were always STARING at me during movie night…thought it was because I am just so very handsome and they all wanted me.
Pillownaut: Well thank you for that Johnny Bravo moment.
Sarcasmo: Anytime.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

There's No Crying In Baseball

Here is another test description, where I've combined dorsal hand vein and foot vein procedures. Around day 12 or so, the first set is done for a baseline. After we go head down, we repeat these around day 30, day 60 and day 90.

A link has been added to the main TEST * Descriptions list on the right-hand navigation bar, or you can go directly to the photos of the dorsal vein tests.

If needles or blood make you uncomfortable, skip these... they are definitely the most difficult procedures, but also among the most important. Astronauts in space only donate about 15 minutes per day to testing countermeasures, so this is one that we flight analogs pitch in for in a big way... up to 5 hours at a time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Firefly Cult, NASA Chapter

So we've been infiltrated. Now seriously, all that's missing is the popcorn; even the staff are hovering and starting to watch Firefly with us. Devin wanted to see some episodes after reading about it on the blog, so we're watching the entire series AGAIN... working our way up to the Serenity movie once more. Two other subjects then joined -- including new arrival Deron, who was already a fan. Watching this appears to be a community endeavor now. Part of the fun has been figuring out all the Chinese phrases, only to find we were better off not knowing what they were ;)

Candace also got about halfway through the episodes with us, but sadly, she finished her lunar study and flew back to California... Happy Trails, Blondie! It won't be the same without you!

TODAY... was Devin's birthday and my 30-day mark!
Over the past couple days, we shot videos of everyone's birthday wishes to Sarcasmo and surprised him with it as we all watched it together over lunch. There was singing, there were presents and fun was had by all. I'm kinda fuzzy on precisely when the party degraded into rubber-band snapping, since I still had a headache from a nitroglycerin test earlier in the day, and I bowed out when the guys started popping balloons.

In other news, I have now been head-down for a month, and it sure went by fast! It honestly doesn't seem like I'm already a third of the way through!