GALVESTON - Gary Conway is not only the kind of guy who cares about “The Right Stuff;" he also cares about the right fluff - of his pillow after lying in a hospital bed for two weeks.
"I thought this was one way I could contribute to the space program,” said Conway, of Seattle, Washington.
While Conway is cared for like a critically ill patient, he is in fact a perfectly healthy NASA guinea pig. He’s part of study where subjects agree to stay in bed at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for up to 60 days straight.
He eats, drinks and does all his business without ever getting out of bed, which includes showers.
"We take horizontal showers here,” Conway said.
And, most importantly, he also exercises lying down. While astronauts exercise regularly in space, they still struggle to combat the loss of muscle tone and bone mass that happens on long missions without gravity.
Conway and other subjects who go through this study are helping NASA study the effects of weightlessness on the body to develop the perfect workout to negate those effects.
To do that, subjects not only lay in bed, but are hooked up to a wall-mounted treadmill that replicates space exercise. It’s hard work. It's a mad-science contraption of cables and straps that shifts all of the subject's weight to the legs without ever getting out of bed.
Every day, the subjects run through short intervals of intense exercise.
"The interval has proved to be very effective,” said Ronita Cromwell, a NASA contractor working on the bed rest study. "If what we find with our bed rest subjects is not perfect, we can tweak it; we can change it. We can then make it perfect before the astronauts utilize it.”
The volunteers who make that possible have different reasons for enduring a mentally and physically grueling study. For Conway, it's something noble.
"Yeah sure, in the big picture because it's going to allow the astronauts to stay healthy in space,” he said
For his fellow subject Michael Asaf, an unemployed factory worker from Houston, it’s about the money at $200 a day
"I just think about the prize at the end,” he said.
NASA's thinking about its prize, too: healthier astronauts through rigorous, scientific research. Who knew lying down was such hard work?