Astronauts could be FROZEN during missions to Mars and beyond

Astronauts could be FROZEN during missions to Mars and beyond to protect them from space radiation and save on food and water supplies

  • ‘Human hibernation’ could be used to preserve astronauts during long trips
  • It would drop an astronaut’s metabolism, cutting the need for food and water 
  • Technique could be used to treat people with serious illnesses on Earth
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Astronauts could one day be put into artificial hibernation for deep space trips to Mars and beyond, scientists suggest.

This ‘human hibernation’ would cut the need for food and water supplies and could even protect those on board from dangerous space radiation.

The technique could one day be used to treat people with serious illnesses here on Earth, scientists claimed.

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Astronauts could one day be put into artificial hibernation for deep space trips to Mars and beyond, scientists suggest (artist’s impression)

Scientists discussed the potential for the technology at a medical conference in New Orleans last week.

The theory is a hibernating crew is kept alive over vast cosmic distances reducing the need to take along huge stocks of food and water.

This means spacecraft do not have to be so big and missions are cheaper while astronauts don’t get bored as they traverse long distances of space.

Humans do not hibernate like bears and some other animals when food is scarce and temperatures low.

These animals survive by entering hibernation, a physiological process that reduces their normal metabolism to low levels for days or weeks at a time.

These periods of low metabolism, known as torpor, allow the animal’s body temperature to fall to just above the surrounding air temperature, thus conserving energy.

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Humans do not naturally undergo torpor, but scientists are interested in the idea of producing states of ‘synthetic’ torpor for spaceflight and treating serious illnesses.

Postdoctural Fellow Dr Matthew Regan the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine explained: ‘Synthetic torpor could protect astronauts from space-related health hazards and simultaneously reduce demands on spacecraft mass, volume and power capacities.’

The symposium explored how synthetic torpor might be induced by the brain, its similarities and differences to sleep, and how it could benefit astronauts.

Studying hibernation in mammals may also aid treatment of people experiencing traumatic medical events, such as stroke, cardiac arrest and severe blood loss.

Animals that use torpor have a natural resistance to various injuries that can happen due to lack of blood flow.

WHAT ARE NASA’S PLANS FOR A MANNED MISSION TO MARS IN THE 2030s?

Mars has become the next giant leap for mankind’s exploration of space.

But before humans get to the red planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a the mission in lunar orbit have been unveiled as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.


Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans at Nasa, outlined the space agency’s four stage plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its expected time-frame.

Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for construction of a habitat which will provide a staging area for the journey.

The last piece of delivered hardware would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to carry a crew to Mars. 

And a year-long simulation of life on Mars will be conducted in 2027. 

Phase three and and four will begin after 2030 and will involve sustained crew expeditions to the Martian system and surface of Mars.

They are also resistant to radiation injury and decoding this could help protect astronauts from space radiation.

Professor Hannah Carey of the University of Wisconsin said the synthetic torpor based on the biology of natural hibernators was preferable to current medical practices that use hypothermia-based methods to treat trauma patients.

And studying hibernation could be key on how to create synthetic torpor for space travel.

Yet how the nervous system reduces metabolic activity during torpor remains unknown.

Assistant Professor of Physiology Dr Matteo Cerri from the University of Bologna in Italy explained many of the organs that regulate metabolism are controlled by nerve cells (neurons) located in the raphe pallidus, an area of the brainstem that controls the production of heat in mammals.

Prof Cerri added: ‘For an animal to enter torpor, the neurons within the raphe pallidus have to be inhibited

‘If function in these cells is not suppressed their activity would counteract the hypothermia induced by torpor.’ 

Associate Professor of Neuroscience Dr Vladyslav Vyazovskiy of the University of Oxford added defining the relationship between sleep and torpor has been fraught with controversy.

But the two states appear to be intimately linked because of the neuronal connections they share.

A lack of available food sources may cause mammals to conserve energy and lower their body temperature, two hallmark characteristics of torpor, research showed.

Prof Vyazovskiy said: ‘Less is known about the specific fasting-related signals which initiate entry into torpor.’ 

Some of the physiological adaptations that animals exhibit, such as the low-oxygen environments that seals and penguins experience with deep diving or that birds experience on a high-altitude flight, are impossible for humans.

Yet understanding how animals adapt in extreme conditions may play a positive role in human medical science, especially in the ‘extreme environment of space.

The increasingly real possibility of travelling to Mars, once just a science fiction story, emphasises the need to resolve factors that have hampered the feasibility of long-duration spaceflight, including having an ample supply of food, water and breathable air.

Finding a way to induce torpor in humans could help eliminate limiting factors as well as protect astronauts from harmful radiation.

The symposium was part of the American Physiological Society’s Comparative Physiology: Complexity and Integration conference.

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