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!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

15 Minutes

Seems publicity for the Spaceflight Simulation Study has crossed oceans since we were on FOX News! I really want to thank all the friendly folks who have emailed links to articles or their own online blogs/journals for links and pictures! The downside is the occasional misconception about this being a "sleep" study in some forums... but otherwise it's all very positive. We've been mentioned in:
My name is hard to spot in that last one: Арчулетта Хетер. I can skate through most of the text in the other languages, though here's the one I genuinely cannot read; click on the graphic below for the full screenshot:

I gather the red-pointed text is "Pillownaut" or "her blog" because that's where the link goes from Slashdot Japan if clicked.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another Day, Another WinSCAT

After yesterday's question about mental testing, I posted a description for our main psychological assessment. Every couple weeks, we are given questionnaires to measure any possible signs of depression, anxiety or changes in behavioral, appetite and/or sleep patterns.

At various intervals, we are also given the S-CAT or WinSCAT, which rates the level of your concentration, working memory, attention, short-term memory and mathematic skills.

All TEST Descriptions are accessible from the sidebar link, or click here to go to the WinSCAT page directly.

Today In History
Got a fun email from my mother today... part of her "Thought of the Day" theme, so I always know she's thinking about me :) Today she writes:

"August 19 is a United States national observation that celebrates the development of human flight. The holiday was established by a presidential proclamation in 1939, which designated the anniversary of Orville Wright's birthday to be National Aviation Day. It was to recognize the contribution of the Wrights and other pioneers in the world of aviation. We've come a long way, baby!"

pillownautMom & Me

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Q & A ... Again

Thursday's Child of Kuwait asks: Besides the medical testing, do they do any psychological testing as well?
Sarcasmo answers: Yep. Massive. 7-point Psychometric personality tests… they calculate levels of ADD, neurosis, agreeableness, OCD, and other stuff… want me to post mine?? We had multiple written questionnaires, then hours of computer-based testing… like 250 True/False clicks, and over 500 value questions.
Pillownaut answers: Psyche testing continues through every phase, though not as rigorous as the initial screenings. Checklists, cognitive & memory tests, and ongoing live interviews are part of the weekly drills. I'll add the written test to the blog tomorrow, writing description now.

Hockey Chica Supermoose33 from Arlington, VA asks: Does NASA allow vegetarians to be a part of the study?
Pillownaut answers: No. The non-negotiable diet includes meat, and must be the same for everyone, just in different portions. Folks with allergies aren't eligible, and there are no trades or substitutions -- unless you qualified in every other way for the study but had a religious reason not to eat pork. (However, there have been and still are a few vegetarians in the astronaut corps.)

Stephen of Mars Hill, NC asks: Looking forward to your posts during rehabilitation. How will you react to verticalness? Certainly your body doesn't always remain exactly at -6 degrees. Do you deviate a few degrees, say during weigh-in or bathing?
Sarcasmo answers: From seeing others get up, it seems you get dizzy easily and the sense of balance needs to be reset. Moving from bed to gurney, you can deviate a hair’s length, but the gurneys themselves are also at -6. I really try to stay as compliant as possible for the research. There are also an army of people and cameras who watch us. If we deviated while moving, they’d help us find ways to move more efficiently.
Pillownaut answers: Once we stand up, I'm told that irony inflicts a delightful twist... the first thing you want is to lay back down! After day 90, we’ll first sit up, then stand, then walk with people on either side for stability. Muscle memory will then hopefully "re-learn" motor skills and equilibrium of being upright. We are "straight" in the weight scale when it rises, though the shower table is also at -6. Twice per day, we have a particular neck extensors stretch, where we pull our heads forward off the pillow twice for two 20-second holds. For meals, we must bend one arm under our heads, so we don't choke while trying to swallow. At the 60 day mark we must sit up for a 10-minute bone mineral content test on a certain machine. Those are all the deviations I can think of!

Cherie (city not named) asks: Suppose you just get a cold or a sore throat? Are you allowed to take medicine?
Pillownaut comments: Good question, and we had to go to a lifeline on this one, because frankly, we just hope it never happens and try not to think any more about it. But we asked and...
Nurse Becky says: The goal is to prevent sickness at all costs. We are in a restricted ward. No personnel may enter without specific badge clearance, and only subjects can put visitors on the “Backstage Pass” list. For staff, anyone with a fever (sign of possible viral contagion) MUST stay home. We cannot routinely administer medicines, but if it does not interfere with any blood testing, we can offer Tylenol. If any subject developed a fever, testing might be put on hold until a cause was determined, but if more symptoms developed that were not swiftly treatable, you would probably be released from the study. Definitely anything like dental work or other illness requiring antibiotics would be treated but then you would be sent home. So far, we’ve never had outbreaks of colds or flu… though we have had a few small issues like a muscle tear, ingrown toenail, and a person fell once. Those were treated and the people completed their studies.

Cindy Heitkam of Lena, IL asks: What kind of privacy do you have? Are you sharing a room with the men of the study? Do they keep video cameras on you at all times?
Pillownaut answers: Nope, women on one side of the unit, men on the other. We are in a large square, with the nurses’ stations and common rooms in the middle, so we have to be rolled around a few turns to visit one another.
Sarcasmo answers: Not much privacy. Cameras always running 24x7 except in the shower and when we use the bathroom, when we have both curtains and closed doors.

Christy (city not named) asks: Does the program supply you with a laptop? Do you pay for your entertainment or do they provide you with things?
Sarcasmo answers: Free Netflix for us! We share lots of movies and video games. We can also buy our own books or movies on the internet and have them delivered. We have an Activities Coordinator who can shop for us, mail things out, and who also puts together games and prizes, etc. I use the internet for phone calls, but everyone here is given long distance cards to use over our bedside phones.
Pillownaut answers: You can bring your own laptop, use one here, or both... say you want one on either side of you, one for PC work and one upon which to watch DVDs. Monitors, kitchen staff and nurses also bring DVDs from home for us, for variety… everything gets passed around!

Sound Man "G" asks: Was wondering what kinds of comforts of home you are allowed to bring with you. Can you bring a favorite blanket or pillow?
Sarcasmo answers: Skinny standard issue pillows only. Lots of folks put photos on the walls or TV monitors.
Pillownaut answers: They encourage you to bring a comfy blanket, since the hospital issue here are plain white and not terribly warm. We can also bring any knick-knacks, just keeping in mind you can only bring so much luggage, due to minimum storage space.

Viktor of Greenville, SC asks: In your daily routine you have stretching exercises - it's good, but seems too little... Are you allowed to do more exercises on your own in other times?
Pillownaut answers: It certainly seems like too little, compared to what we are all accustomed to! However, we aren't trying to stay in shape. The goal is to simulate weightlessness, which deconditions the body… that’s the whole idea. It is definitely difficult to have only small amounts of activity, but from what I constantly hear and read on the news these days, us doing 30 minutes worth of stretching twice per day is, sadly, already more than most people do anyway!
Sarcasmo answers: No extra exercising. And we are limited to what we can and cannot do during stretching, so as to minimize all variables and mimic what the astronauts face. I am looking forward in some ways to the “pain” of rebuilding after this experience of having the body degrade, as in trying to get from jello back to stone. You truly get to see what you’re made of. I want this new outlook on exercise, to appreciate it more when I am able to do it freely. It’s amazing how much you WANT to walk around when you can’t do it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bright Hub

Today I received the most gratifying email thus far into my project here at NASA. I’ve excerpted many comments and questions, but this time I’d like to share the whole email from former 2nd-grade teacher Elizabeth Wistrom, who found time in her busy schedule of raising three active sons (aged 4, 8 and 10!) to help make this project visible in a Science forum aimed at giving people the tools to use technology more efficiently at work and in life:

Hi Heather! A review I wrote of your blog has been published on the K-12 Educational Learning Channel for Bright Hub:

I know that K-12 educators from around the country will be excited to share your project and fascinating blog with their students this fall! The K-12 Channel is a relatively new addition to Bright Hub, which up until now has focused mainly on science and technology. We are hoping that the word will get out, and teachers will see what a fantastic classroom resource it is. Keep up the great work! Your dedication is admirable, and will serve as a wonderful example.

Hey, wasn't I just talking about how I wished we had more folks helping kids learn about the space program?? I love this. She also mentioned she and her boys enjoy reading about the NASA project together... we hope other kids will too. Thank you, Elizabeth!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I made a list of all medical tests done in the Spaceflight Simulation Study, and started writing descriptions. The first page shows brief details on the multiple blood draw collections.

The navigation sidebar on the right has a new link to the full TEST * Descriptions page, and from there, I'll start populating other links.

Of course, after the spirited hits from the past couple days, this will have all the jubilant spontaneity of a real estate closing, but there it is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fish, Fun & Firefly

So we have new pets in bedside aquariums, compliments of our thoughtful and creative Activities Coordinator, Michelle. Devin named his Sharkie, and here's mine, who I named Firefly -- that is the set of DVDs I happen to be watching now. (Lucky for the fish he didn't arrive while I was watching Burn Notice.)

Any other Firefly folk reading along? As a sci-fi devotee, I am not sure how I missed the Serenity cult up to this point... but Kevin (remember him from the past Lunar Study post?) was about the umpteenth person to express surprise that I'd never seen the show, and recommended it. Hey, he walked into my room wearing a Star Trek T-shirt, I took him for trustworthy!

They could triple the price of this series and people would still buy it for Morena Baccarin alone. Always awesome Adam Baldwin is in the cast, which I never knew... and a scruffy-looking nerf-herder named Nathan Fillion, who looks like a hockey player. Score.

Interestingly, seems STS-117 astronaut Steven Swanson was a fan; he took the Firefly DVD set with him on Space Shuttle Atlantis last year to the International Space Station, where it remains in the ISS Mission Library.

NASA Astronaut Swanny
In other news, I'll address curious readers of past comments/emails, and first off, let me express a stunned and sincere thank you to everyone who offered to send me books and DVDs. However, with the kind of influx of I must politely but appreciatively decline at this point, I'd have to be here for a solid year to get through it all. I already have more media and printed matter than I have clothing!

My Activites List, shows all the books I'm finally catching up on! At present, I am halfway through a mediaeval history collection about 13th Century England and Wales, which follows the battles between King Henry III, his son Edward I, and the last Welsh ruler, Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ... before the land of Gwynedd (pronounced "Gwyneth," a territory of northern Wales) was subdued, and the title "Prince of Wales" shifted to the eldest son of the English Monarchy.

Light reading. You asked. Next up, more Sci-Fi.

Favorite Firefly Quote:
"How come you don't care where you're going?"
"Because how you get there is the worthier part."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sarcasmo’s Halfway Point

Day 45! I would have to say it has come about way faster than I expected… doesn’t seem like its been that long. Time has just flown by, especially since my new roommate just went head-down this past Friday, and I get to harass him about crying like a little girl from the aches and pains of fluid shift, hahaha… just playing Marcus ;)

I noticed people have asked about the food in various comments, and well, since I have eaten every meal on the rotation probably 5-6 times now, I’ll give my critique. I would say they’re all fine, but some are more desirable than others. The pizza and chicken quesadillas are by far the best dishes. The tuna casserole pita and the two step chicken (cream of mushroom soup and chicken pieces over rice) are probably the lowest for me.

Now, after 45 groundhog days, some of you might wonder, is there anything I look forward to or really dread? I would say I always look forward to my hour massages (don’t know how I ever lived without ‘em) and going outside for 15 minutes (fresh air does the body good). As for dreaded stuff, it seems 6:00am comes earlier and earlier every morning. Other than that, all is well. There have been a few changes since I started: my hair is a little longer, beard is a little bushier, Spanish vocabulary a little bigger...

Heather and Candace on UTMB Grounds
In other ward news, Candace returned today… One more California Girl in the fold! Candace, a realtor who works in both Nevada and California, was here in early July for a previous study, and has returned to the program a second time for the 12-day lunar study. Welcome back, Candace!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Day In The Life

Hockey-Chica Rene of Santa Clara, CA writes: Something that might be interesting -- Give us a time table of a whole day!
A blow-by-blow list of activities here at Camp Couch Potato? Not at all riveting, but I'm all about the "ask and ye shall receive" thing.

06:00 - Woke up to Simon & Garfunkel

06:01 - Morning news rounds on CNN, MSNBC, FOX...

6:14 - Vitals check by Nurse Achamma

6:32 - Big scary scale rolled in for weight check

6:44 - Debated sticking a sharp object into my eye, or just turning off the news

6:45 - Turned off the news

6:46 - Wondered why I always watch the [eternally BAD] news

6:47 - Booted laptop to login to numerous accounts; still trying to catch up with email tsunami after being on television.

7:10 - Respiratory/Circulatory assessment by Nurse Tammy

7:14 - Humbly amused by a guy in the Ukraine who passed me links to articles in cyrillic. Seems I made the news in Russia, and they have another reason to think we yankees are all fruitbat crackers.

7:30 - Breakfast (Eggs & cereal with juice)

7:44 - Caught up at,, and lobbed an email back to a Pittsburgh Pens fan who wanted to know what team I follow. San Jose Sharks mostly, since northern California is my home ground, but I'll pretty much stop channel flipping when I see any large angry toothless Canadians on frozen water.

8:00 - Turned off computer to read my book

9:00 - Stretching exercises routine

9:30 - Wrote some postcards

10:00 - Rolled to Shower

10:30 - Emails while listening to music... Jeff Buckley, Tracy Chapman, Pink, Sammy Hagar

11:15 - Read National Geographic magazine

12:00 - Rolled to common room to watch "The Bucket List" with Devin, Marcus, John & Richard

12:30 - Lunch (Burger & veggies) during movie

14:00 - Massage by Cristalla

15:00 - Emails & music... Unckle Kracker, Savage Garden, Lisa Loeb

15:15 - Vitals check by Nurse Nicki

16:00 - Stretching exercises routine

16:30 - Read National Geographic (Same one. They're thick!)

17:30 - Dinner (Salmon & wild rice) while watching "Forensic Files" on TruTV, and you really shouldn't watch that show while eating ANYTHING ;)

18:00 - Watched a Vin Diesel film... also checked out the new materials at favorite links: and hilariously-tasteless Joe Go into the GAMES section and play "Blend the Boss!"

19:02 - Respiratory/Circulatory assessment by Nurse Jackie

20:00 - Emails

21:00 - Wrote this blog post, and will read my book again until lights out

So there is my big fat strenuous weekend. Tomorrow I might even strain myself to make a phone call.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Q&A Tag Up… You’re It

Bronwen of Los Angeles, CA asks: Do you just stay in pajamas all the time??
Sarcasmo answers: Mostly sweats and T-shirts… and shorts when I'm hot, I'm usually steaming in here.
Pillownaut answers: I’m the opposite, I find it too cool. So I wear thick socks, and we all have dressers and closets here with changes of regular (loose) clothing.

Sound Man "G" of Springfield, MO asks: Is "testing" done on a continual basis, meaning will they be doing this for several years? Are there folks who can assist with haircuts, or you have to just let the hair grow out in the 90 day period? Get the nurses or attendants to have gurney races up and down the hall...
Sarcasmo Answers: This 10-year stint started in 2004. Campaign #1 was 60-days. Campaign #2 was 90, and they have one man left. We are the first subjects for Campaign #3, to specifically compare male and female changes/adaptations and recoveries. There have been women in others, but this is the first one that looks closely at X and Y for their differences. And yep, there is a salon on the first floor of the building. My previous roommate went down there to get shaved once, and they asked him, "Hey, why shave when we can give you a nice Mohawk??” So, I’ve never gone down there. And yeah, I wish we had motorized gurneys… engine, steering column. I need a cutting torch and a welder. I could do it.
Pillownaut answers: I hacked 6 inches off my hair in April, then about another 6 before I checked in, to avoid having to maintain long tresses while lying down. Incidentally, a few monitors have actually gotten into trouble for being a little too whimsical with the gurneys. Then there was “The Toe Tag Incident.” A past guest put one on her foot and covered herself with a sheet when she went to her “outdoor time,” making it look as though the monitors were pushing a corpse around. Another apparently rigged a string over the door with a cup of confetti, and would spring it on whomever came into her room; still another erected a toll booth in the hall. See what happens when you have time on your hands? All in good fun… however, due to past trouble-makers, handcuffs and poppers are now banned from the ward. Don't ask.

Bären Zehe of Atlanta, GA asks: Fellow IT person: What are the restrictions on your Internet use? Is there a bandwidth limit? Limits on tools you can use (no Remote Desktop to a server somewhere)? Obviously, port 80 is open for you, but are you restricted to webmail?
Pillownaut answers: Webmail only. We are temporary guests, with the same restrictions as employees – also keep in mind I am not an IT worker HERE… so, I have no admin privs, and we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) access any servers. It’s a bit odd, because I’m used to having more power in my computing environment, but on the MAJOR upside, I also don’t have to fix anything that goes wrong! :)
Sarcasmo answers: No porn, no gambling sites, no P2P. Wireless is a bit screwy sometimes but otherwise no complaints. No bandwidth limit, I watch streaming movies all the time on the net.

SB-Gal of Santa Barbara, CA asks: Very cool - glad you guys were able to take over the headlines for awhile :). Do you have to eat all of the food they give you as part of the experiment?
Pillownaut: Every bite. There are menu items one may not be accustomed to; it’s more vegetables than most folks eat, though I eat more fruit at home. I used to eat 5-6 small meals per day. Here there are 3 large ones, so I often feel I am “over-eating” … but maybe some things feel heavy only because I don’t regularly eat SO much bread, and I do not like milk or ice cream.
Sarcasmo answers: See, she shouldn’t have gotten in. Anyone who doesn’t like ICE CREAM shouldn't be allowed. Ice cream is good for the soul, makes you feel like a kid again!

Anonymous asks: I assume you were in exceptionally good health before the experiment started, because the astronauts who will be experiencing similar conditions aren't just picked off the street.
Sarcasmo answers: We're in pretty awesome shape, fairly, I paid off the right people.
Pillownaut: LOL, I wish it had been that easy! The screening process is indeed rigorous. We'll try to do a whole post on that sometime soon. No one has ever come right out and said “here is why you were chosen.” We also don’t know why anyone else was ruled out, as you only get a briefing on your own medical status, of course… but through conversations, we found certain things in common that probably aren’t coincidence. None of us have had broken bones, we all have low blood pressure, etc.

Mariez Kelemen of Salzberg, Austria asks: Is anyone come in who wishes later they didn’t come in? If you knew everything about it you learned now, would you still do this for them?
Sarcasmo answers: What's funny is people keep asking stuff like that, as if they really want us to say it sucks here, but the exact opposite is true most of the time. It’s some downtime I have needed for a long time… I’m a complete workaholic in the real world.
Pillownaut: We’ve heard of people who have been dismissed for health or behavioral reasons, but so far no cases of anyone quitting once they began. Everyone says they would still accept, even through rough patches. After “adaptation,” the body stops making such a fuss. It’s hard to believe that a week ago, just breathing or sneezing caused pain. Now I am not really even noticing the tilt. It felt steep and foreign at first, but now it seems flat and I feel just like I always felt when standing or sitting up.

I think this is going to be the best phase, because I'm doing that thing we ALL say or think we'll do when we have TIME. "When I have time I'll read such-and-such a book.” “When I have time I'll create a blog." "When I have time I'll buy this TV series on DVD and watch the whoooole thing." That's what I get to do now! In fact, it has occurred to me with no small amount of irony that when I go home in November, I may be pretty bummed out that I have to go grocery shopping, cook, wash dishes, do laundry again... since right now we all have rather a convenient sabbatical from housework!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Routines

Here are some things we all undergo in the usual courses of our days. Strangely, they have begun to seem normal!

Each morning after the 6am wake-up song, I flip on my bedside lights and turn on the news. I'll watch that for "one round" of story segments -- unless I hear the words "gasoline prices," or "Britney Spearsm" whereby I flip to the NASA channel to see what's there.

One nurse goes room to room with a large scale. We roll to one side while they spread a tarpaulin stretcher beside us. We roll back onto it and spread it out the rest of the way. The tarp has four metal rings, which attach to the scale, and they pull a hydraulic lever to lift us clear of the bed's surface. FUN, eh??

NASA bedrest scale
After waiting a moment for it to stop swaying, they touch a button for a digital readout of precise kilograms -- and this number is passed on to to the dieticians so they can calculate our food and water allotments for the day. The goal is to keep us at precisely the same weight, with no gain or loss.

Before 7am, another nurse rolls in a console holding a digital sphygmomanometer and oral thermometer. We each have our own size-specific wrap-around cuff attached to the bed. They take morning vitals, recording blood pressure from the arm and body temperature (in Celsius) from beneath the tongue. They also note the reading off the room thermostat, which is always kept at 70-73 degrees. This process is repeated in the late afternoon.

Breakfast is usually between 7-7:30, and after that, another nurse visits for respiratory and circulatory assessments. They run a stethoscope over our backs, listening for bronchial clarity while we take deep breaths, then on the chest for the heartbeat. They also do quick motor tests where we apply pressure to their hands, and check wrist, foot and sometimes shin pulse -- consistently asking if we have any pain, soreness or tingling in the feet. So far none! This process is repeated in the early evening.

Twice per day, we do 30-minute routines of muscle stretches (neck, back, legs, arms, abs, etc). We are rolled to the shower every other day on a padded gurney, at which time our bed linens are all changed while we're out of our room. We also get a one-hour massage every other day -- always a welcome diversion! We are wheeled around the building or outdoors in the shade twice per week, to get some fresh air... and humidity!

In the coming days, I'll describe some of the actual testing we undergo, so you can get a feel for the study itself... but please bear in mind I am not a doctor or scientist; I can describe what the tests entail in terms of actions and sequence, and my subjective opinion of the bodily effects... but frankly even I don't always know exactly what they're measuring! More to come.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

FOX News New York

FOX News called me for interviews... I just held the phone until they reached my segment in their line-up, but Marcus was kind enough to record the TV so I could see it later. This is "Fox & Friends" regulars Judge Andrew Napolitano, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Meade. The first clip (30 seconds) is them discussing the project and bone issues, and the second (2 minutes) is me on the phone.

Another longer interview is on the FOX website. Click to see the file in the SciTech Videos section under "Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite." This third one is 8 minutes long, and Alisyn Camerota asked me a fair amount of questions.

I'd like to point out one thing if you watch: based on no comment of mine, Steve Doocy inexplicably accused me of "complaining about the food" -- which, for the record, I have never done in any interview or privately. Complained about the headache? Oh heck yeah... but I've mentioned many times that the food was far better than expected.

Don't mistake the unease with which one gives up salt, chocolate, soda, alcohol, caffeine, etc. --but I wouldn't want it to get back to the South Six Kitchen that I don't appreciate all their hard work. These very dedicated folks must measure and weigh precise portions of all different kinds of vitamin and/or protein-rich foods in order to CUSTOMIZE meals for every study resident, based on weight, caloric requirements, and the occasional nutritional assessments made from our blood draws. And they do a fine job. I'll be giving more details about the food in a later post.

ISS Animation

I love this! Tietronix Software, Inc. is a Houston company, which specializes in applications development, and has many examples of their animations online for public viewing.

This great animation they created for NASA shows, in chronological order from 1998 onward, all past work on the International Space Station, and planned future construction. You can see the American laboratory and airlocks, the docking compartment and CETA carts (Crew and Equipment Translation Aids), plus many nodes and truss segments. In coming years, we will see the European module, and Japanese Logistics/Experiments modules.

So. Utterly. Awesome.

Pretty quite around here today, as there is only a skeleton medical crew. Tropical Storm Edouard made landfall right over us; I'm watching it batter my window as we speak. Nowhere near hurricane force, though... so hopefully it will cause minimal wind damage and just bring some much needed rain to Southern Texas.

Monitors and other personnel were encouraged to stay at home until it dies down, and I haven't even seen anyone pass my door in about half an hour. VERY different from a usual weekday, with science teams all rushing hither and thither with clipboards and binders, coming at us with big grins and piles of electrodes. All testing has been temporarily cancelled, so that people aren't having to commute to and from JSC in this gale. Safety first!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Bigger Picture

We've done Q&A in bulk, and tend to zero in on questions asked multiple times -- but I singled out this particular question for a dedicated post, because I think it's an important point to make.

Loki asks: And you say that staying in bed improves our poor lifes?

Yes. While this particular study is most directly applicable to how micro-gravity affects the human body in order to create counter-measures, this research may also shed light on how to better care for pregnant women whose babies lives depend on bed rest, or people with injuries which leave them no choice but to remain immobile for long periods.

In a broader sense, the benefits from technology invented for space missions affect millions of people on Earth every day -- your "poor life" included. Did you know modern fire-fighters wear suits made of fire resistant fabric invented for use in space suits? Did you know the helmet padding that protects the heads of all your favorite NFL football players was developed by NASA for aircraft seats? Did you know you wouldn't have a cellular telephone if it wasn't for NASA? They didn’t invent the gizmo itself, but they created the process that makes it work!

Frankly, I'd be twelve shades of tickled to chuck my cell phone into a swamp, it drives me batty... but here are a few other things we wouldn't have if it wasn't for NASA being only 5 years short of its AARP card:

- Radiation Detectors

- Virtual Reality Simulators
- Cordless Vacuums
- Heart Pump Implants

- Invisible braces
- Memory Foam (now known as Temper Foam)
- Micro-Lasers
- Solar Cells
- Joystick Controllers
- Fire-fighting Equipment

- Lightning Protection Systems
- Crop-Dusting Accuracy Systems
- Oil-Spill Cleanup Techniques 

- Aircraft De-Icing Techniques 
- Satellite Television (actually enabled everything that requires satellites!)

I could go on for days, and in fact there are entire websites devoted to this subject. Hey, turns out getting on a soapbox is the only easy thing to do tilted at -6 degrees! Browse those pages, decide for yourself, and ponder or argue as you please... but I'm just one of those people who thinks the facts are plain.

Technologies developed from NASA labs continue to have significant impact, from finding water on Mars to better aerodynamic designs in children’s toys... and sometimes I am floored when I hear people talk about NASA in a negative way, as if the space program should be shut down to address other socio-economic issues of our world. The big picture is often the other way around: a great many of our crucial issues have been and still are solved by NASA... many in tandem with other technology companies, or even as happy accidents in the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”

Buzz Aldrin recently said "fantastical" science fiction has led to a declining interest in promoting the real space program, and he has a point. Nc one wants to stifle creativity, because certainly fictional shows and movies have also led to many new inventions and cultural ideas... but there is something to be said for inspiring young people to learn of and be excited about the REALITY of space travel as we know it, and all its accompanying (or resulting) technologies.

Is it always perfect? Have they done everything right? Of course not; no entity does, and scientific discovery is rarely the result of the shortest or easiest path. Nonetheless, NASA has consistently led the way to truly remarkable advances and miraculous voyages, because their focus exemplifies one of the greatest human characteristics: our desire for examination and EXPLORATION. We are the only animal who looks beyond ourselves, to see what the universe is made of and how we fit into it, how we came to be.

Whether one puts their faith in a divine entity or their energy into science, at its core this grand search transcends both of these spheres -- and defines our essence, our deepest nature. Beyond technology. Beyond the mechanics of "everyday life." Beyond how we interpret facts or faith.

Dinosaurs didn't track orbits. Ever seen a giraffe gaze up at the stars and organize them into patterns? Chimps never argue whether Pluto IS or ISN'T a "planet" for the sake of accurate categorization.

Humans alone, from the most ancient civilizations to the present, looked upward to ask, what is out there? What does it mean to us?

Humans alone look upward to ask, WHY?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Photo Galleries & Artwork

Just kidding about the whole "turn your computer monitor sideways" thing yesterday. Sometimes we get a little punchy in here. We knew what you meant. The video clips show us many days/weeks into bedrest, and wow, do we look... um, CASUAL. So, we picked a couple photos that are more indicative of our usual lives. Click on the thumbnail to see actual size.

Pillownaut & SarcasmoAlso have a new picture collection, but some sad tidings of someone checking out today. Everyone here paints a ceiling tile upon completion of their project. It's the only art we can see easily while being wheeled around the facility! Michael just finished the 12-day Lunar Study, and came to show me his tile before he left for home. Click on his picture or this link to Picasa to see a gallery of ceiling tiles from all the subjects.

NASA Test Subjects Have fun on your travels, Michael, and everyone wishes you the very best of luck in Medical School!

Friday, August 1, 2008

FAQ Avalanche

Nick Walker of Jackson, MI asks: Can I become a participant in the study?
Pillownaut answers: Yes, go to the Human Test Subject Facility website. There are links to articles and details about all studies at Johnson Space Center -- more are due to begin soon.

Darryl in Phoenix, AZ asks: What do you look like standing?
Sarcasmo answers: Turn your computer monitor sideways.

PetLil of Henderson, NV asks: Are you married? Is someone watching your kids?
PillowNaut answers: At the moment, no subjects here are married or have kids… it appears we all travel too much! I am also the only woman, but another is due soon. More men than women appear to join the studies in general, both for family-care reasons and screening reasons (males are less likely to upset blood test schedules with hormonal cycles).

Pugh Family asks: Do you ever get to lay on your belly instead of your back? And what’s going to happen with your "cycle"?
Sarcasmo answers: My friend has my cycle in storage, but when I’m done here I’ll go ride it again.
PillowNaut answers: He’s kidding. I hope. We can move onto our stomachs or our sides anytime we like as we read, talk, watch movies, sleep, etc. For meals thrice daily, we prop up on one arm. We each have one pillow, which we may fold in half. As for my "cycle," I use the same feminine products I used at home for overnight. It will come and go as it pleases with a mind of it's own, as usual!

Mitchell K. Dixon (City not named) asks: I read your schedule, wow, that’s a lot of stuff to go through! You poor soul. How did you get suckered in to this? And what would you usually be doing right about now in real life? :)
Sarcasmo answers: There was no suckering, I chose to do this. I was curious to see what sort of cool stuff goes on at NASA. And of course … cha-ching! In real life, I’d be feeding my horses on the farm and wrenching on my vehicles.
Pillownaut answers: The schedule is sometimes hectic, and many tests are strenuous... but however it looks, I assure you my office job was waaay more painful and aggravating, LOL. I would normally be doing IT work, or more to the point, explaining things to middle managers who don't understand IT work ;)

Dave (City not named) asks: Thanks for your commitment to the space program! You will have to tell us if you are reading any good books over this time period. What does the man in your life say about this adventure??
Pillownaut answers: The only men in my life right now are my awesome new buds here, and they seem fine with it :) New idea for a link! I’ll create a list of everything I’ve read, what I’m reading, and maybe films we watched. Devin’s list might fill a blockbuster store by now.
Sarcasmo answers: Oh, definitely up into the triple digits on my diet of 3 movies per day.

Leigh In The Meadow comments: After all this, they should automatically qualify you to actually GO up in space! Good luck with the experiment. :)
Sarcasmo answers: I’d go!
Pillownaut answers: What he said. (And interestingly, we will spend more time "simulating" micro-gravity than the majority of individual astronauts have ever spent IN IT ;)

Jason Miller of Kokomo, IN asks: I would like to know what you miss most about being upright. Thank you.
Pillownaut answers: I miss running, roller-blading, going to the gym … and seeing the SURFACES of furniture around me, because I cannot sit up to scan my environment and my reach isn’t that far! I miss being able to wash my hair without rolling around on it at the same time… and I do wish we could have chocolate.
Sarcasmo Answers: Mobility, driving a car, and riding my horses. Plus I’d love a soda and some chips.

Renegade comments: As trivial a job as it might seem to some, you are doing an important thing for the space program. I don't know how you can do it, I think I'd go crazy stuck in bed for that long! Kudos to you! Check out my NASA Celebrates 50 Years blog post!
Pillownaut answers: Thank you! Great pictures on your site! Crazy is relative... we might argue that we’re already half-way there. Or in Devin’s case, drew the map.