A Denton man is preparing to suit up with NASA to help them get closer to landing a human on Mars.
Thomas Wild heads to Houston on Monday for a four-month assignment with NASA to test the effects of new technology and exercise on the human body when exposed to long-term zero gravity.
In a manned mission to Mars, astronauts would have to spend about eight months getting to the red planet with current technology, according to NASA’s Mars Program website. Travelers would be in space for more than a year which includes the return trip and exploration time.
Wild said the biggest hurdle right now is spending that much time in zero gravity, which creates serious side effects on the muscular and skeletal system.
Wild and 35 others from across the country have been chosen to test ways to reverse the effects.
"To prevent them from losing their muscle and bone as much as they possibly can,” said Wild.
The volunteers will be confined to a hospital bed for 70 days straight. Wild said they are to be kept angled 6 degrees off a completely flat plane, an angle which mimics zero gravity on the human body, for the entire duration.
"It is going to be pretty brutal,” Wild said. "I am nervous. It's going to be physically and mentally taxing for sure."
When the more than two months bed-stricken experiment is over, the test subjects will undergo extensive physical therapy with new techniques and technologies to help counteract the effects.
"I had to sign off on every little detail,” Wild said admitting that there were risks, but he said the 20 or so people who have already done their time in the study were once again walking by the end.
Wild, a University of North Texas alumni and staff member in his mid-20s, said he first heard about the opportunity on Facebook from some friends and decided to go for it. Out of 6,000 or so applicants, Wild was one of only about 36 chosen to participate.
Wild said NASA is paying him for the study, about $17,000 which he plans to put toward his student loans, but he said the real payoff for him is being a part of this potentially groundbreaking time when man could travel to Mars. He said as a child he dreamed of being an astronaut and though he pursued psychology in college, he’s remained fascinated by science and space.
"This is just something I'm proud to do; it's my part. I'm not going to be an astronaut, so this is the coolest next thing,” Wild said.
UNT is giving Wild extended time-off for the study and said his job and benefits will be waiting when he gets back.
Wild said he is nervous about the study and being in bed for 70 days but will have things to do during that time. He’s prepared a stack of books to read, will have Internet and Netflix access, and has already signed off on all of the meals he’ll enjoy during the study. Each meal will be carefully measured out by NASA scientists to give just the right amount of calories for his body weight down to the gram. He said weighing-in will be a very common occurrence, even after every time he uses the bathroom. This is done to control the study and mimic an astronaut’s movements as close as possible.
Wild said when he is back up and moving, he expects to have a bit of a different perspective on the gift of walking. He said he may even have to take up dancing to celebrate.