Hibernation research for long space flights

Scientists are doing new research at using some form of hibernation for humans traveling on interplanetary missions lasting months or years.

Bradford’s engineering and medical team used the first of those NIAC grants, issued in 2013, to design a compact zero-gravity, rigid-structure habitat based on the International Space Station crew module designs. The habitat featured closed-loop oxygen and water production systems, direct access to the Mars ascent and descent vehicles, and support for a crew of six, all of whom would be kept in torpor for the entire six- to nine-month Mars journey.

The proposed medical treatment relies on using techniques similar to the ones surgeons perfected to induce hypothermia. For example, cooling nitrogen gas could be fed to astronauts via nasal cannula, lowering brain and body temperatures to between 89 and 96 degrees—close enough to normal to maintain torpor without overcooling the heart or increasing the risk of other complications. Cooling tends to decrease the body’s ability to clot, Tisherman says. He has also noted that patients who are cooled to mild levels of hypothermia—93 degrees—for 48 hours or more have more infections than uncooled people.

As is usual in these modern fascist times, bureaucracy and the fear of radical protesters are preventing this research from moving forward. NASA is forbidden to fund any research that uses live animal subjects, such as pigs, even though they are ideal subjects and, as noted in the article, “The number of pigs involved in this kind of study wouldn’t amount to one’s week’s breakfast for the average American.” Private funds have also not raised because no one wants to deal with the public relations nightmare of PETA protests.

The article is long and detailed, and gives an excellent overview of the state of the field as well as the research questions it faces. Above all, it does indicate that the idea of using hibernation in space, born in science fiction, is not so much of a fantasy after all.