NASA is backing a proposal to place astronauts in a state of artificial hibernation during manned missions to Mars. Such a deep sleep, or therapeutic torpor, would reduce space travelers’ metabolic functions, making such missions easier and less expensive to conduct.
To help the astronauts last the long journey, NASA is contemplating putting them in stasis, or a prolonged deep sleep, CNET reports. The space agency is looking into torpor stasis, which is often used in hospitals in the intensive care unit. The crew would have to be put in a deep sleep lasting more than 180 days, and that hasn’t been done yet on Earth.
NASA has partnered with SpaceWorks Enterprises, and they have some idea of how it could happen: an astronaut would have a tube in their nose pumping out a cooling agent, and their body temperature would slowly lower to between 89 and 93 degrees, entering torpor. While in their deep sleep, the astronaut would receive food through an IV tube, and when they were ready to get revived, either the cooling agent would stop its flow or warming pads would be used on the body.
NASA isn’t sure yet if the crew would be in stasis for the entire voyage, or take turns, with one astronaut awake for two or three days and then put into a two week stasis until their next shift. If stasis works, missions to Mars would become much smaller, shrinking from 400 to 220 tons, since a lot of food and water wouldn’t be necessary. Researchers are nowhere near being finished studying this, but initial results from a one-week test funded by NASA are encouraging.