Did you know that ESA is researching human hibernation for long distance spaceflight to Mars or beyond?
Hibernating astronauts could be the best way to save mission costs, reduce the size of spacecraft by a third and keep crew healthy on their way to Mars. An ESA-led investigation suggests that human hibernation goes beyond the realm of science-fiction and may become a game-changing technique for space travel.
When packing for a return flight to the Red Planet, space engineers account for around two years’ worth of food and water for the crew.
Torpor during hibernation is an induced state that reduces the metabolic rate of an organism. This ‘suspended animation’ is a common mechanism in animals who wish to preserve energy.
Reducing the metabolic rate of a crew en route to Mars down to 25% of the normal state would dramatically cut down the amount of supplies and habitat size, making long-duration exploration more feasible.
Mimicking therapeutic torpor, the idea of putting human into a state of hibernation, has been around in hospitals since the 1980s – doctors can induce hypothermia to reduce metabolism during long and complex surgeries. However, it is not an active reduction of energy and misses most of the advantages of torpor. Studies on hibernation to visit other planets could offer new potential applications for patient care on Earth.
Animals hibernate to survive periods of cold and food or water scarcity, reducing their heart rate, breathing and other vital functions to a fraction of their normal life, while body temperature lowers close to ambient temperature. Tardigrades, frogs and reptiles are very good at it.
Lower testosterone levels seem to aid long hibernation in mammals, estrogens in humans strongly regulate energy metabolism.
With the crew at rest for long periods, artificial intelligence will come into play during anomalies and emergencies.
The possibilities of hibernation for medical use is of particular interest to the European research community and could transform how we approach many severe illnesses.
Inducing torpor is already used in some medical environments such as surgical theathers to replace anesthesia in those patients allergic to anesthetic drugs.
The step to space research is closer than you might think. Get involved with spaceflight research via https://www.esa.int/spaceflightAO. Find out about our commercial partnerships and opportunities in human and robotic exploration via https://www.esa.int/explorationpartners to run your research in microgravity as well.
ESA – European Space Agency
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