Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Man to Mars Mission: Hibernation for Astronauts?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Man to Mars Mission: Hibernation for Astronauts?

Article excerpt

With travel to Mars taking upward of 180 days - one way - NASA is considering the possibility putting astronauts into a medicated deep sleep for the trip.

Torpor, a state of reduced physiological activity, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions, and costs, according to a NASA- backed study conducted by Atlanta-based aerospace engineering firm SpaceWorks Enterprises. The physical inactivity paired with intravenous feeding might mean a crew could essentially be put in hibernation during transit to Mars.

Torpor occurs naturally when a human experiences hypothermia, but hospitals have been using it to treat patients for more than three decades.

"Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer of SpaceWorks Enterprises told the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto this week, according to Discovery News. "Protocols exist in the most major medical centers for inducing therapeutic hypothermia on patients to essentially keep them alive until they can get the kind of treatment that they need."

Taking measures to reduce human activity are prompted by questions of how to minimize the crew "footprint" on space habitat architecture. Theoretically, sleeping astronauts would require less food, water, and oxygen, thus significantly cutting the price tag on a six month journey. It could also eliminate ancillary crew accommodations including food galley, exercise equipment, and entertainment.

But the longest period a patient has ever been held in torpor has been limited to two weeks, according to the report.

"For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we're talking about," Schaffer told Discovery News.

Humans who have undergone multiple torpor induction cycles have reported no negative or detrimental effects, according to the SpaceWorks study. …

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