Who needs exercise gear or a galley. Knock the astronauts asleep and wake them up when they get to Mars. That’s what one NASA-backed study looked at.
This deep sleep, called torpor, is already being used to stabilize patients in critical condition at hospitals. Torpor reduces a person’s metabolic functions. It can occur naturally, usually with hypothermia.
The biggest hurdle to overcome would be a long-lasting therapeutic torpor.
“We haven’t had the need to keep someone in (therapeutic torpor) for longer than seven days,” said Mark Schaffer, an engineer with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, according to Discovery News.
“For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we’re talking about.”
Other hurdles for long-term sleep, or stasis, include health. If something goes wrong during the long trip, NASA would need some way to monitor and wake the astronauts up on their journey. Not to mention the potential bone and muscle loss that would be seen in a no-gravity environment.
A spinning habitat has been offered as one solution, and would help offset any muscle or bone loss by providing a low-gravity environment.
Putting the Mars crew to sleep would keep a lid on costs and the amount of gear required for a trip. Discovery News reports, “SpaceWorks’ study, which was funded by NASA, shows a five-fold reduction in the amount of pressurized volume need for a hibernating crew and a three-fold reduction in the total amount of mass required, including consumables like food and water.”
That would cut the tonnage required for the mission nearly in half from 400 tons to 220 tons.
The study highlights other possible scenarios including having the crew take shifts of being up for a few days at a time before going back into deep sleep. Check out the Discovery News report to read more about the potential scenarios for a manned Mars mission.
Some form of deep sleep will be necessary for any Mars journey. Otherwise, the food and water requirements alone would make any trip difficult to plan.
This study shows that there’s no major initial roadblocks to deep sleep. But, more research will need to be done on long-term therapeutic torpor.