WASHINGTON DC — Astronauts might one day sleep their way to Mars by spending much of the long, arduous journey in hypothermic hibernation chambers.
The trip from Earth to Mars takes approximately 200 days, one way. This presents several challenges. First, the long trip could take a psychological toll on astronauts. Second, life support systems (think living quarters, food galleries, etc.) for a round-trip journey lasting more than a year would significantly add to payload requirements. Having astronauts sleep much of the way could address both these challenges.
NASA is funding research into the idea through its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. Last week, NASA awarded $500,000 in second-stage funding to Atlanta-based SpaceWorks Enterprises.
SpaceWorks has drawn up ideas for a hibernation chamber, which it says would help reduce an astronaut’s “footprint” aboard a spacecraft to Mars.
The chamber’s intranasal cooling system would lower the astronaut’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, significantly reducing metabolism. This is known as a “torpor-induced state using therapeutic hypothermia,” a procedure developed by medical doctors for the treatment of patients.
While asleep, an astronaut would be fed via catheters attached to the thigh or chest, while another tube carries waste away. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation might be used to stave off muscle atrophy.
As the astronauts approach Mars, the wake-up cycle begins. Warming pads slowly raise the body’s temperature. It takes roughly one hour for every 1 degree rise in body temperature.
Fully awake after their long nap, the astronauts are ready to begin their Mars mission.
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