Long duration cryogenic slumber or hibernation may be helpful for space trips, but as NASA has lost interest in the project, earthbound applications may be a more viable path to market.
NASA intends to make space trips to Mars more efficient by ferrying astronauts while they slumber during the six-month hike. This reduces the need for food, water and other consumable supplies.
Leading efforts to develop the technology is SpaceWorks, a company that maintains it has solved the mystery of cryogenic slumber. They are borrowing techniques used by doctors and altering them for space trips.
According to medical publication MedScape, restorative hypothermia is already used to revitalize patients having heart failure, which has been associated with preserving the brain’s function by decreasing the body's metabolism.
Doctors reduce the temperature of the body with intravenous solutions, ice cubes and cooling blankets until they manage to get the heart and blood moving again.
SpaceWorks intends to extend this technique to space travel and put scientists in a state of hibernation. The merits would be that astronauts would not need much food. Astronauts would also avoid the challenge of space travel, which would appear to go by in the wink of an eye.
The planned cooling method is not theatrical — adjusting the body heat to 93 degrees Fahrenheit — but has a thespian slowing impact on the body.
According to a study sponsored by NASA, astronauts would be put in a slumber-like condition using a drug, cooling systems, or brain manipulation. The scientists would still need some nourishment, which would be supplied by a feeding tube, which is presently used for patients who cannot eat.
There is a broad gap between what is doable today and what would be required in space.
As of today, a couple of weeks are the longest time a human being has survived in stasis. To land on Mars, the journey would take between six and nine months.
SpaceWorks maintains that two-week hibernation would be sufficient to preserve reserves on a Mars assignment. Researchers would take turns in shifts of sleep and alertness.
According to sleep science blog Van Winkle’s, in spite of buzz from last year's exploration project, NASA appears to have developed "cold feet" about the whole research effort. NASA refused to finance the second stage of the exploration.
SpaceWorks head John Bradford still believes in the worth of the technology, but maybe here on Earth.
He recently said that “Maybe it’s something you go into on the weekend for 48-hour torpor sleep.” He added, “The reason they do it for traumatic injuries is that it lowers the metabolism and blood pressure and such and gives the body time to respond and heal from these injuries, so maybe there is some therapeutic benefit.”
Though the thought seems strange, a cryogenic spa might motivate some people. Whether the technique will become harmless for people who are not experiencing a severe medical emergency is another unanswered question but the future thus far appears bright, if cold.
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