The concept of human hibernation was first imagined in the 20th century before becoming a stable of science fiction on the silver screen. For future deep space missions to succeed, radical changes are required in the way astronauts live onboard.
According to a new ESA study, placing astronauts into a state of suspended animation may be the way to go.
We have created a roadmap to achieve a validated approach to hibernate humans to Mars within 20 years
ESA’s Robin Biesbroek
A team of researchers investigated how hibernation would influence the design of a crewed mission to Mars.
Their results revealed it would be very beneficial to build smaller spacecraft.
Simply by removing the crew’s now-obsolete living space and slashing supplies, the researchers conceived a design cutting the spacecraft’s mass by a third.
ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), a state-of-the-art centre that enables specialist teams to carry out initial assessments of proposed future missions.
CDF’s Robin Biesbroek said: ”We worked on adjusting the architecture of the spacecraft, its logistics, protection against radiation, power consumption and overall mission design.”
ESA’s goal is to evaluate the advantages of human hibernation for a trip to a planet like Mars.
Mr Biesbroek added: ”We looked at how an astronaut team could be best put into hibernation, what to do in case of emergencies, how to handle human safety and even what impact hibernation would have on the psychology of the team.
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“Finally we created an initial sketch of the habitat architecture and created a roadmap to achieve a validated approach to hibernate humans to Mars within 20 years.”
The idea of slowing down humans’ metabolic rate in the same way that animals hibernate is not yet possible.
However, human hibernation remains a possibility, given similar methods are already employed to save trauma victims.
Dr Jennifer Ngo-Anh, the research team leader, said: “For a while now hibernation has been proposed as a game-changing tool for human space travel.
“If we were able to reduce an astronaut’s basic metabolic rate by 75 percent – similar to what we can observe in nature with large hibernating animals such as certain bears — we could end up with substantial mass and cost savings, making long-duration exploration missions more feasible.”
Dr Ngo-Anh added: “And the basic idea of putting astronauts into long-duration hibernation is actually not so crazy: a broadly comparable method has been tested and applied as therapy in critical care trauma patients and those due to undergo major surgeries for more than two decades.
“Most major medical centres have protocols for inducing hypothermia in patients to reduce their metabolism to basically gain time, keeping patients in a better shape than they otherwise would be.”
“We aim to build on this in future, by researching the brain pathways that are activated or blocked during initiation of hibernation, starting with animals and proceeding to people.”
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