NASA plans ‘deep sleep’ for Astronauts traveling to Mars

NASA plans ‘deep sleep’ for Astronauts traveling to Mars October 6, 2014

As an innovative means to save space and dramatically cut the cost of a human expedition to Mars, NASA plans to place astronauts in a “deep sleep” known as “therapeutic torpor.”

A recent NASA-backed study explores the feasibility of lowering the cost of a human expedition to Mars by putting astronauts in stasis via therapeutic torpor. The study, conducted by SpaceWorks Enterprises, looks into the use of therapeutic torpor as an economical and pragmatic means to allow astronauts to travel long distances in space.

Therapeutic torpor would reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions with existing medical procedures. Coupled with intravenous feeding, therapeutic torpor could be used to place a crew in “hibernation” for the travel time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way.

Crews would require less space and fewer amenities like galleys and exercise gear, and of course less essentials like water, food and clothing.

One design includes a spinning habitat to provide a low-gravity environment to help offset bone and muscle loss.

Speaking at the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto last month, SpaceWorks aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer said:

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. Protocols exist in 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.

We haven’t had the need to keep someone in (therapeutic torpor) for longer than seven days. 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.

Doctors already know how to induce therapeutic hypothermia in a patient: the preferred method is an intranasal cooling system which streams coolant and gas into the body lowering its temperature achieving a state of therapeutic torpor in just a few hours.

The SpaceWorks study, funded by NASA, shows a five-fold reduction in the amount of pressurised volume need for a hibernating crew and a three-fold reduction in the total amount of mass required, including consumables like food and water.

Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and a staunch advocate for the exploration of space, believes that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality, noting that space travel “could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets.”

(H/T Discovery)

NASA Considers Deep Sleep Option for Mars Mission

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