Suspended Animation In Space Travel: What Scientists Still Need To Learn
The first astronauts who head off to Mars might make the entire 180-day journey while they’re fast asleep. In a study on human stasis, aerospace engineers at SpaceWorks have found that the benefits of placing a crew in suspended animation for the journey could be huge.
Without living spaces or kitchen facilities, the ship carrying the crew could be lighter and smaller. With everyone basically in hibernation, with a lower metabolic rate, future missions can reduce consumables like food and water by up to 70 percent. And having an unconscious crew also reduces the grueling boredom and chances of personality clashes before humanity can complete the small step/giant leap onto the Red Planet.
It sounds practically perfect in every way, but there’s still a considerable amount of time and research that needs to happen before we send astronauts off to Mars via the shores of sleep. The technology that SpaceWorks is looking at is a form of therapeutic hypothermia that will drop the temperature of the astronauts’ bodies by just 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing their metabolism and putting them in a kind of hibernation. “It doesn’t take much to get the body to start slowing down,” says John Bradford, President of SpaceWorks Enterprises.
Though it involves chilly temperatures, therapeutic hypothermia is a hot topic in the medical world, with numerous published studies and trials in the works, all trying to buy trauma patients an increased chance of recovery on the surgeon’s table. Bradford says that SpaceWorks has been paying close attention to the studies coming out of the medical world, and that they think therapeutic hypothermia could be used safely on interplanetary flight, once some of the medical concerns of such an endeavor are studied and addressed.