HERA XV underway: The second of four 45-day missions ends on Dec. 11.


HERA XIV ended early due to Hurricane Harvey. Undaunted, the flight analogs team pushed forward with HERA XV, the third 45-day Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) mission. It began on Saturday, October 28 in Building 220, with an ingress the evening before.

This mission will focus on the effects of sleep deprivation and ways to mitigate these effects, along with several other mission objectives. For details please visit the research tile of the HERA website. Check back to this site for crew photos and to follow the mission clock.

HERA XV will end on Dec. 11 and will be followed by two more missions for this campaign. This is one more mission than was planned for HERA’s Campaign 4.

Lying in Bed for the Sake of Science: NASA Co-Sponsors Bed Rest Study in Germany

Twelve volunteers will arrive this week at the German Space Agency’s (DLR) Institute of Aerospace Medicine’s :envihab facility to lie in bed for a month in the name of science. NASA’s Human Research Program, in partnership with DLR, is sponsoring investigations in this study to observe and analyze the effects of fluid pressure on astronauts’ eyes and optic nerves.

DLR Facility in Germany
German Space Agency’s (DLR) Institute of Aerospace Medicine’s :envihab facility in Cologne, Germany where a bed rest study, co-sponsored by NASA’s Human Research Program, is taking place in October and November 2017.
Credits: NASA


This study, known as VaPER (VIIP and Psychological :envihab Research), is part of NASA’s Flight Analogs Program. An analog environment is a situation on Earth that produces effects on the body similar to those experienced in space, both physical, mental and emotional. These studies are expected to help advance the understanding of how to keep humans safe as we move from lower-Earth orbit missions into deep space exploration.

Lying in Bed for the Sake of Science: NASA co-sponsors bed rest study in Germany
Participants may keep their cell phones or use computers during the bedrest study, but they must maintain a six-degree head-down tilt at all times.
Credits: DLR


The participants in VaPER will spend 30 days in bed with a six-degree head-down tilt and breathe air with 0.5% carbon dioxide. By comparison, carbon dioxide makes up about 0.04% of the air we breathe on Earth.

On the International Space Station, and many other space vehicles, carbon dioxide levels are higher than on Earth, due, in part, to the enclosed environment in which the astronauts live and work. Constant forced air circulation throughout the station ensures that pockets of CO2 that do form are quickly dispersed, and that the crew members always have plenty of clean air to breathe. The head-down tilt in the VaPER study will simulate the weightless nature of space, where the fluids in your body shift toward your head. These conditions will mimic the environment thought to cause vision problems experienced by some astronauts.

Lying in Bed for the Sake of Science: NASA co-sponsors bed rest study in Germany
Official patch of the VaPER bedrest study, a NASA co-sponsored investigations to observe and analyze the effects of fluid pressure on astronauts’ eyes and optic nerves.
Credits: NASA


“On October 2, they admitted the first two subjects to begin,” said Lisa Spence, Flight Analogs Project Manager. “The next day two more arrived. They will continue this every day until they have admitted all 12.”

The subjects will complete two-weeks of baseline data collection and training then “the first two who came in will go to bed where they will remain for 30 days,” Spence explained. “The day after that, the next two will go to bed then the day after that the next two. Each set of two will have the same schedule, it’s just offset by a day from the others.”

Bed rest studies offer scientists ways to see how the body adapts to weightlessness. Participants must live, eat, and even shower in the head-down position – and in this case – in the carbon dioxide environment. This causes their bodies to adapt as if they were in space. They are continuously monitored to understand how their bodies change and why. Results allow countermeasures to be devised that will help astronauts on space missions, as well as bed-ridden people on Earth.

While very structured, the participants’ days may not be as boring as it would seem. Participants are encouraged to set a goal such as learning a new language or taking a class online.

Additionally, daily routines, such as showering, take a lot of time when you cannot stand up to do them. There is continuous data collection including several MRIs to observe potential changes in either brain or eye structures. Blood pressure, heart rate, nutrient absorption, energy expenditure, bone mass and even the participants’ mood will also be monitored. Diet is strictly controlled giving participants little choice as to what or when they eat. Participants get to keep their phones to maintain contact with family and friends, although visitors to the facility will not be allowed.

NASA is “SIRIUS” About Its Analog Missions

Before humans will go to Mars, NASA has practice missions on Earth. The SIRIUS missions are the latest spaceflight analogs NASA is utilizing to help us understand the risks of travel further into the solar system. This ground-based analog is a complement to human research being conducted on the International Space Station, such as Scott Kelly’s One-Year Mission. These missions are paving the way to learn how the human body reacts in unique environments.

An analog environment is a situation on Earth that produces effects on the body similar to those experienced in space, physically, mentally and emotionally. These studies are expected to help advance human spaceflight from lower-Earth orbit missions into deep space exploration. NASA is associated with at least 15 analog environments throughout the world. The SIRIUS analog takes place at the Institute for Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) in Russia. Other NASA-associated analogs are in Germany, Canada, Antarctica, and at sites in the United States.

Credits: IBMP


The SIRIUS (Scientific International Research In a Unique terrestrial Station) missions are the first time NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) partners with Russia’s IBMP Ground-based Experimental Complex (NEK) to conduct a series of analog missions. The first of these missions is SIRIUS-17, named because of its 17-day duration and it will take place in 2017. The mission is to begin on Nov. 7.

“The SIRIUS-17 mission, from a NASA perspective, is designed to test the capabilities of the Russian facility,” said Lisa Spence, Flight Analogs Program Manager. “We want to exercise the facility capabilities, mission planning and integration procedures to identify challenges or issues now as opposed to during a longer duration mission.”

Mars 500 Facility (interior)
Elevated view of the IBMP facility where the SIRIUS-17 two-week analog mission begins Nov. 7, 2017. Participants will spend 17 days in a simulated space mission environment.
Credits: IBMP


The goal is for NASA to work with the IBMP to conduct at least three follow-on missions: a four-month mission in 2018, an eight-month mission in 2019, and a 12-month mission in 2020.

SIRIUS-17 will have six human participants who will be isolated and confined in a mock-spacecraft habitat for the mission’s duration. During the mission, they will be performing a suite of scientific experiments. Training for the crew began the week of Oct. 9.

One of the reason NASA chose the Russian facility is that it is a dedicated facility. This means that during the mission, its purpose is to execute the simulated space missions and research activities targeted for an isolation environment, according to Spence. “Also, they have done successful long-duration isolation missions at the IBMP facility in the past, even up to 520 days. They have demonstrated the ability to do the type of missions we are planning to work up to,” she said.

More than 40 scientific experiments have been selected for SIRIUS-17, which will place significant demands on crew time. HRP personnel developed a unified science requirements document, which helps in the development of the mission timeline, and maximizes the science data capture.