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NASA Project: Flying to Mars in Hibernation Compartments

NASA scientists might be drawing inspiration from sci-fi movies: they plan to create hibernation compartments so that astronauts can travel to Mars in an unconscious state, thereby saving energy and costs. They have suggested to use the therapeutic hypothermia method whereby the astronauts can remain in a sleeping state for some days.

Sending astronauts into space is a challenging feat where every detail matters: keeping the fuel stock at sufficient levels, making sure the living conditions are adequate for the scientists, and what not – all of which needs for great sums of money to be invested. In the same line of thought, a journey to Mars would be even more taxing in terms of pecuniary and energy needs. Researchers have therefore suggested a surreal way to tackle this problem: building hibernation compartments for the astronauts to save energy.

NASA scientists proposed to put astronauts into a state of hibernation called torpor during the journey from Earth to Mars. They would lie unconscious in boxes with medical monitoring cables linked to them, causing their metabolism to decrease in rate, while they are fed via intravenous tubes and relieved by means of urine removal systems.

Does this mean that astronaut-life will soon grow to be similar to sci-fi’s?

Incredible headway in the medical field has allowed for the hibernation state to be made possible. A method known as therapeutic hypothermia is employed, whereby a person can be rendered unconscious by making his body temperature decrease below the normal range. As a consequence, metabolism is slowed down. This has been used in the past: for instance, Michael Schumacher was allegedly put into that state after he was severely injured in order to allow him to survive for longer periods of time.

However, pulling people into the torpor state has only been done for a number of days ranging from 3 to 4. This is nothing compared to the average 180 days it would take to reach Mars, not to forget the same number of days for the return-journey.

In order to verify the relevance of the idea, animal testing would have to be done first, after which testing on human subjects would be made possible.

A Chinese study might be the hope for this though. It surveyed 80 patients who went through therapeutic hypothermia for 3 to 14 days. Those patients who stayed in that state for 2 weeks woke up in relatively good state.

The plan has even been drafted out: an astronaut would remain awake at all times. He would remain in contact with the Earth, all the while checking on his partners, verifying if everything with their hibernation compartments are working properly. After a determined period of time, he would activate a heating system that would bring them back from their ‘sleeping state’, and it would then be his turn to go into hibernation.

Perhaps, this project would be turned into reality in decades from now?


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