National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Nursing student Debra Robison was a volunteer for a NASA bed-rest study in Galveston, Texas, in this 2007 photo. Subjects get paid to lay around in bed for weeks on end to mimic some of the effects of weightlessness on the body.

Get paid to lie around. Is this the best job ever?

NASA has a job for you: Stay in bed 30 days. But no napping!

Tomorrow, Scott Saslow leaves the best job he's ever had.

The perks are great: free meals, massages, and round-the-clock care. You get paid no matter what you do: reading, playing games, or goofing off.

And you can do all this lying down – in fact, you have to lie down for an extended period without getting up.

"This was pretty cool," says Mr. Saslow, who's finishing up a two-month stint at NASA's bed-rest study at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. The space program "is something I've always been interested in."

It helps that he's getting paid a little over $9,000 for his efforts, which included a string of 30 days in bed.

By having people rest in bed for days at a time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is trying to replicate the long-term effects of weightlessness on the human body. So if the agency ever sends astronauts on a four-month trip to Mars, it will have a good idea of how well they can function once they get there and what they can do to stay in shape.

"I'd do it again," says Heather Archuletta, who has participated in two bed-rest studies – one for 90 days in bed (that was cut short by hurricane Ike) and a six-day-in-bed session this past April. "I really want us to get to Mars in my lifetime. And if it does happen, I'll have had a small part in it."

Lying around for so long takes some getting used to, however. For one thing, to mimic some of the effects of weightlessness on functions like the flow of blood, technicians tilt the bed negative 6 degrees. So, instead of being perfectly horizontal, participants' heads are about five inches lower than their feet.

"The first day when they tilted the bed, for the first second or so I thought: 'I think I made a big mistake,' " Saslow says. Then his body began to adjust to the angle and he settled in for his 30-day rest job.

Except for the periodic medical testing, he had plenty of time to watch movies, play board games with other participants, surf the Internet, and keep a journal.

There was one restriction. He couldn't sit up for any of these activities. Besides propping himself up at mealtime – and only a little bit under the watchful eye of the staff -- everything he did was at negative 6 degrees, including personal hygiene.

"When you shower, they wheel you in on a gurney," Saslow says. "The first time it's a little weird.... You have to watch not to get water up your nose."

Then there were the meals, carefully prepared and measured down to the gram. "It's a lot of food and you have to eat it in 30 minutes," he says, including the big glass of milk and the three to four side dishes. "Some of the meals are pretty good," but not the refried beans. "I haven't met anyone who likes them."

Also, for a job where lying around is the main order of the day, there's a strict policy against napping outside the designated sleep period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. "If they think you're sleeping, they'll come in and say something," Saslow says.

Neither he nor Ms. Archuletta say they were ever tempted to get out of bed. But the first day both were released from the bed portion of the study, they had trouble walking.

"The first time you set your feet on the floor after being in bed for a couple of months, wow! It kind of messes with your equilibrium," says Archuletta, who fell a couple times during her weeks of rehabilitation. "It was a couple weeks before I could drive a car."

When he gets out Thursday, Saslow says he's looking forward to seeing his parents and ordering a pizza.

So is this really a dream job that people should do?

"Absolutely," Archuletta says. "They're constantly looking for subjects, especially women. It's one of the coolest things I've ever done."

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