NASA is experimenting with stasis to put and a Mars-bound crew to sleep for six months. Faced with a choice to either speed up the spacecraft or slow down the astronaut, NASA seeks success in achieving the latter.
The ambitious research experiment, conducted by SpaceWorks but funded by NASA, relies on existing medical methods. Patients suffering head traumas, strokes, and heart attacks undergo therapeutic hypothermia. Decreasing the body temperature by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit slows metabolism by 50-70 percent and decelerates tissue deterioration. Previous experiments have placed subjects to sleep for two weeks.
Placing the astronauts into suspended animation has its benefits for both the crew and NASA. The spacemen – whose bone density decreases on missions into space – would experience a shorter journey having slept through the long trek to Mars. The deep sleep spares them psychological stress.
For NASA, the success of the experiment means redistributing funds normally allocated to sustain conscious and active astronauts during travel. Also it lessens the need for food, water, and living space. Stocking those items adds weight to the spacecraft. Freeing storage space lightens the weight and may even require the use of a smaller craft. Approximately, supplies and equipment would be reduced by 180 tons.
Feeding would be administered intravenously. The diet would consist of a solution of carbohydrates, lipids, dextrose, and amino acids. It provides for urine waste expelled through a catheter. The medical industry is developing infection-resistant intravenous lines which would be useful for the astronauts’ journey to Mars.
Atlanta, Georgia’s SpaceWorks president, John Bradford says ample data exists in support of the experiment. He feels that a journey to Mars is impossible without this technology and regards the procedural aspects as benign.
The SpaceWorks study began 12 months ago. During the process of putting astronauts into a dormant state, or stasis, engineers conjured images based in science fiction. In their thermal management system, cooled gas is emitted via a tube inserted into the nasal cavity. The astronaut’s body temperature decreases by about 10 degrees. Drugs administered at a low dosage will subdue shiver reflexes and aid their voyage into torpor, or deep sleep.
The research intends to wake NASA’s Mars-bound crew at the end of their six-month sleep. However, an engineer for the study says alternative sleep intervals may be used. He explains that the astronauts can sleep in shifts of two weeks at a time and be conscious for two days so that one crew member is always awake throughout mission.
Stasis could be reversed by switching off the shivering suppressant and cooling gas. The process of waking takes about two hours. Over the next couple of days, the astronauts would become fully acclimated. The astronaut’s post torpor mental faculties will be examined via cognitive testing.
Bradford approximates the astronauts’ expedition to Mars and back will take two and a half years. The crew would spend roughly a year and a half actually on the planet.
Previous unmanned missions to Mars were successful but NASA observes a more challenging feat in allowing humans to take the journey. NASA targets the actual landing of humans on Mars for year 2035. Other projections, i.e. Spaceworks, Space X, fall between 10-20 years.
In its infancy stage, the project has concluded the first phase in the development of the initial design. The initial design encompasses engineering details and medical plausibility. More challenges awaiting the mars-bound crew – who may or may not sleep incessantly for six months, will be explored before NASA executes its first mission of humans to the red planet.
By Charice Long