Spend two months lying down to help space research: volunteers have agreed to stay bedridden under surveillance in Toulouse, in order to recreate the absence of gravity and thus contribute to improving the living conditions of astronauts during their missions. "We see ourselves slimming down day by day at the beginning," smiles Matthieu, one of the twelve men selected for this experiment, who has been well installed for five weeks at the Medes clinic, the health subsidiary of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES).
The bed of these volunteers, chosen from among 3,000 candidates, remains tilted for 60 days at an angle of -6 degrees, the most likely to restore the effects of weightlessness to which astronauts are subjected during their stays in space. "We are really looking to go to the Moon and Mars, it is no longer a fiction and it involves long-term flights of two to three years," says Audrey Bergouignan, of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). "Exposure to microgravity will impact all physiological systems (...) and cause alterations that we try to understand and prevent," says this research director, before adding: "To prevent them, we put in place protocols that we test upstream here, before testing them in space. "
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Everything is therefore organized in order to allow the 12 hospitalized to stay in bed: nearly a hundred people are mobilized to follow them for the duration of the study, from caregivers to researchers. In order to compare the evolution of their body according to their physical exercise, the volunteers are divided into three groups: one performs 30 minutes of lying cycling a day, the other is not subjected to any physical activity, while the third must pedal while in a moving human centrifuge.
"I'm not bored, everyone is very nice," said Alejandro, a 26-year-old Spanish aeronautical engineer who lives in Toulouse. "We are in contact with the other rooms. We organize video game tournaments on Mario Kart or Fifa," he laughs, while pedaling under the supervision of a coach. For them, the experience will end with an accompanied return to normal life at the beginning of July, while 12 other volunteers will submit to the same living conditions in 2024.
The clinic selected only men in order to "limit the variables" between the volunteers, according to the organizers, and obtain the most "homogeneous" results possible. But the conclusions of the study conducted in Toulouse will not only apply to the space field. "Knowledge of a hyper-sedentary lifestyle will be useful for everyone to know how the lack of physical activity affects the body," says Marie-Pierre Bareille, head of the space clinic, referring to the elderly or suffering from pathologies such as osteoporosis. For volunteers, the experience is paid 18,000 euros for three months of presence on site.