MK. Mark Serov. An unusual experiment: A cosmonaut gave an interview right from a bath-tub

April 18, 2018

Some people believe that lying around for days on end, being fed and given to drink, while they pay you a salary for this, is the very definition of happiness. But dont be too quick to jump to conclusions. It is only to a casual observer that the dry immersion experiment currently run at the Institute for Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences seems to consist in this. Ten people, one after another, are immersed in a bath-tub for five days (although they are separated from the liquid by an impermeable membrane). The objective is to recreate zero gravity conditions while staying on the ground, and check the response of the muscles and bones, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous and other systems of a human being. On Tuesday ended a 5-day flight of one of the volunteers tester Mark Serov. A reporter from MK who visited the lab yesterday, learned from the source if it was really so easy to subject oneself to the voluntary planned helplessness.

A warning is posted at the doorway to the 'bath room', or, rather, the dry immersion lab: No entry with virus diseases! The testers resting in zero-g are very susceptible to all kinds of germs.

They put on me a robe, shoe covers and let me in. Here they are these devices: lying in they are testers wrapped in membranes. On the surface are the head and hands clasping mobile phones. Water is bubbling under the membrane, the temperature, to the touch (through the membrane) seems pretty comfortable.

- It is now 32 degrees centigrade, - comments Mark. - However, for the night, I ask them to make it two degrees warmer.

- I wonder why you dont sink, the membrane is not taut, and you are virtually submerged?

- Buoyancy force! Staying in the mixed water/membrane medium, Im floating all the time. By the way, in spite of the fact that different testers have different buoyancy, there hasnt yet been a case of anyone sinking to the bottom (laughing).

Mark Serov is the first cosmonaut tester (a member of the RSC Energia cosmonaut corps) to become a subject of the dry immersion experiment at IMBP. He hasnt yet been to space, but he is very interested in experiencing this specific condition.

- What is in common with zero gravity here is support-free environment, my sensory organs do not feel gravity, - explains to me the interviewee lying in the bathtub. - But thats not all. A day later your head begins to ache because of redistribution of fluids, muscles ache without a customary load, in particular on the back. While I normally have a low pain threshold, I still asked for help from the team in the form of a massage. And I immediately remembered what Georgy Grechko said when asked what is it that a cosmonaut feels: What does he feel? Just imagine that you come to your place of work, they hang you upside down over your desk for several days, after which a cameraman comes and you say on camera, smiling: Everything is OK!

A door opens behind my back. They brought Mark a snack a fruit salad with biscuits and tea. Assistants set up a special table, they prop up the head of the tester with a cushion, and put a towel under his chin.

- By the way, about taking food: Has there been any change in your taste preferences?

- Some people do experience a change, but not me. They have a very correct and balanced way of feeding here, according to the established standard of 1500 kilocalories. My usual intake is 2 thousand kilocalories, but here I dont need more since I almost dont move. By the way, I have less thirst now. And this is regardless of the fact that the body here eliminates liquids more actively. This has to do with the fact that in support-free environment the blood switches to lesser circulation and the body begins to actively eliminate the superfluous liquid. After some time the body adapts to zero gravity, but here a new problem arises skin irritation caused by continuous stay in a semi-humid environment. But we have overcome this (laughing) using dusting powder and cream.

- You never had an urge to quit the experiment?

- No, I hadnt. Its not so hard to endure it for five days. But by the end of the year they are going to start 21 day tests here... Everything will be much more difficult there. As a matter of fact, once a day I actually leave my water bed for 15 minutes to take a shower.

- How so? Doesnt this compromise the zero-g regimen?

- No, it does not, because while doing so, I never go into vertical position. There is an automatic lifting platform under me in the bath tub. The hoist me up to the level of the rim, I roll off it onto a special trolley and ride to the shower. This whole process also happens in the lying position.

And now, about the scientific aspects of the experiment. In addition to daily medical tests, the person staying in zero-g is exposed to electrical currents for three hours a day. This is called low-frequency low-intensity electrical myostimulation (EMS). Two doctors use the lifting platform to raise the tester slightly above the water and put on his legs special trousers with electrodes.

- I dont feel any pain from EMS, - says Mark Serov. - It is a fairly comfortable procedure which improves microcirculation of blood in the limbs and creates the effect of walking. But they will acquaint me with the results of this exposure later, when they have processed all the obtained data.

In spite of the adaptation, they dont let the tester to get rid or pain completely until the end of the tests they use a special device, algometer, to measure his pain threshold several times a day.

- The device has a squeezing probe where you need to insert your finger and endure pressure (which you apply yourself) as long as you can, - explains the cosmonaut tester. - When you cannot endure it any longer, you remove the sharp probe and press a special button. The same principle (endure to the last) is also used during tests with thermal exposure a heated metal plate is applied to the skin.

- And after all this, do you still have time left for books and music?

- The music here somehow does not come across. But I do manage to spare an hour or two for a book. I took with me a science fiction book Blindsight by Canadian writer/hydrobiologist Peter Watts about first contact with another civilization.

- Do you talk at night to your colleague from the other bathtub?

- We are not allowed to talk at night (we have a video camera watching us 24 hours a day), we have a strict regime here: its lights out at 23:00, because at 7:00 its time to wake up and do medical tests.

In the future, scientists plan to combine similar on-the-ground experiments into one package with the isolation tests on the small-radius centrifuge, which creates artificial gravity. Its quite possible that prior to long-duration missions the place of the testers will also be taken by members of the actual spaceflight crews in order to test themselves in advance and partially get accustomed to missions to the Moon and other celestial bodies.

Natalia Vedeneeva




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