Is hibernation a solution for human crew travel to Mars?

The problem of long journeys to other planets or even galaxies could be solved by hibernating astronauts. Spatial medicine, a new discipline, studies this method in the idea of ​​proposing it for human crew trips to Mars.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of Man's first step on the Moon. On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, pronouncing the famous phrase "A small step for man, a huge leap for humanity." The monthly module that led Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon remained 21.5 h, and the entire mission, from launch to the return to Terra, took about 9 days. In total, 12 astronauts stepped on the surface of the Moon, the last being Eugen Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, at Apollo 17 in December 1972.

Since then there have been no missions on the Moon with human crews. Meanwhile, space agencies have become more ambitious, wanting to send human crews to Red Planet, Mars.

But Mars is far farther from us than the Moon. Up to the Moon are about 380,000 km; to Mars 54.9 million km (when Mars is at the smallest distance of us). It follows that a mission to Mars with the current technology would take months. Besides the imminent danger of such an adventure related to the technology used, there are a number of other issues to be considered, such as the harmful effects of cosmic radiation on the body or the lack of gravity (actually micro gravity) in space.

Under these conditions, a possible solution to several problems could be the hibernation of astronauts for periods of about 14-30 days during the journey. The idea is to sleep astronauts in some sort of capsules similar to those appearing in various movies, such as Passengers in 2016, and to lower their body temperature from about 36-37 C (normal temperature) to 5 C. these conditions metabolism is reduced by 70%, and in addition, those in hibernation do not need to eat, and possible conflicts generated by the state too much together in a very limited space are reduced.

The idea is therefore to alternate periods of hibernation with periods of about 2 days of normal state, as it appears that the body does not resist (at least this is the result of current studies) for more than 14-30 days at 5C. Hibernation there is already in nature - the bears hibernate, thus succeeding in surviving even in the toughest winters, saving a lot of energy.

To carry out this type of study, NASA has funded a Space Works project in Atlanta. An eventual hibernation would have a further advantage: the hibernate capsule could be made of materials that absorb cosmic radiation (particles coming from the universe and damaging the body, pairs interacting with atoms and molecules in DNA). On Earth we are protected from this radiation by the magnetic field and the terrestrial atmosphere, which absorbs much of this radiation.

Spatial journeys also pose other dangers: it has been found that the cells of the body undergo various changes in space due to the absence of gravity. An experiment of this kind was conducted on board the International Space Station (ISS), where 5 million human cells were placed around the blood vessels. It has been found that these cells have changed their shape, becoming much less performing. The lack of a gravitational field such as land in a long space travel has dramatic effects on the bone and muscular system, the spine and the blood circulation.

There are, therefore, many aspects to be studied before a long journey into space, but the possible solutions include hibernation.

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