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Six degrees of Wild

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

UNT employee to be in simulated weightlessness for 70-day NASA test

All day every day, for 70 days, Thomas Wild will lie on his back in a bed tilted back 6 degrees. For 30 minutes during each of his three meals, he will be able to lean on his elbow.

The unusual state is required while Wild, an administrative specialist at the University of North Texas Institute of Applied Sciences, undergoes testing for NASA. NASA needs human volunteers to simulate problems that astronauts traveling to Mars could encounter, then test ways to combat the problems.

“To me, it’s a relatively small sacrifice,” Wild said. “It will be awesome to play a part in helping humans reaching out into the universe. It’s an opportunity I never thought I would have.”

He is one of 38 people accepted to the program, which had thousands of applicants.

He is settling in at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where he will undergo testing, and is confined to one floor of the hospital. For the middle 70 days of the 105-day study, he will be in bed in a false state of weightlessness.

After testing astronauts who returned from space, scientists determined that 6 degrees is the magic angle where humans are in a false state of weightlessness. So Wild will remain at that angle and over 70 days test exercise machines that NASA is considering adding to the International Space Station.

The worst part, he said, will be the four muscle biopsies performed during his stay, which will show the levels of muscle degeneration astronauts would experience on a trip to Mars.

“I think it’s mostly going to be mentally taxing and physically uncomfortable,” Wild said. “I’m a little nervous, but so far everyone — about two dozen people — has successfully gone through similar programs.”

He will undergo vision testing because astronauts commonly come back with “squished” eyeballs, from fluids rushing to their heads in the weightless environment. NASA also is trying to determine whether taste buds and sinuses are effected by a weightless environment, as many astronauts who have been in space for a while tend to not eat well, or the amount that they should.

When he first told UNT that he had been accepted to the program, he was prepared to have to leave his position. Instead, he was granted a four-month leave with no pay and will be able to work as soon as he returns.

Wild said he’s already prepared for when the 70-day period is complete and he’s allowed to stand again.

“I have a playlist made for a dance party with the nurses and doctors on the floor,” Wild said.

And once he’s discharged, he, his dad and his uncle are going to go to a seafood restaurant where he can sit outside, have a cup of coffee and drink a beer before heading back to Denton.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.