NASA is considering the possibility of putting the participants of future manned missions to Mars in hibernation. It is proposed to introduce the crew into a deep sleep that will last 180 days. This will allow to significantly reduce the cost of the flight of 350 million miles (560 million kilometers).
The proposal was suggested by Dr. Mark Schaffer of SpaceWorks Enterprises, an aerospace engineering company based in Atlanta, who gave a speech at the 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada.
According to Schaffer, keeping the astronauts in a state of reduced physiological activity, or so-called ‘therapeutic torpor’, could allow to greatly reduce the costs of the implementation of the Mars mission lasting from 90 to 180 days.
During space flight, the astronauts’ life functions would be maintained in a state of suspended animation by intravenous feeding. Body cooling would be carried out with the help of inhalation of a coolant gas. At the same time, electrical stimulation would keep the astronaut’s muscles in tone, so that after waking up they were not too much weakened.
The system, which introduces a person into a state of deep sleep, already exists. It was developed in the 1980s, and has been used in medicine for the treatment of patients with serious injuries since 2003. As a rule, it is not possible to maintain a person in this state for more than one week. However, it is planned to increase this time first to 90 and then to 180 days.
To put the astronauts into hibernation, the so-called RhinoChill System would lower the body temperature by approximately one degree per hour, introducing the coolant into the body through the nose. Cooling the body to a temperature of about 32 degrees Celsius would take six hours. As soon as the spaceship reaches the destination, the supply of coolant would stop and the astronauts would wake up.
Sleeping astronauts could be placed in small capsules, which would save space and reduce the need for provisions. As estimated by SpaceWorks, the project would reduce the size of the spacecraft by five times and the amount of cargo by three times.
It is also suggested to create a rotating habitat with artificial gravity, which could help minimize the loss of bone and muscle mass in astronauts.
There is also an alternative proposal, according to which one of the crew members could stay awake for two or three days before being put into hibernation for two weeks.
To confirm the viability of the proposal suggested by NASA experts, researchers from SpaceWorks will carry out further studies.
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