NASA funds research into deep-sleep journey for Mars astronauts

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Astronauts might one day sleep their way to Mars by spending much of the long, arduous journey in hypothermic hibernation chambers.

The trip from Earth to Mars takes approximately 200 days, one way. This presents several challenges. First, the long trip could take a psychological toll on astronauts. Second, life support systems (think living quarters, food galleries, etc.) for a round-trip journey lasting more than a year would significantly add to payload requirements. Having astronauts sleep much of the way could address both these challenges.

NASA is funding research into the idea through its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. Last week, NASA awarded $500,000 in second-stage funding to Atlanta-based SpaceWorks Enterprises.

SpaceWorks has drawn up ideas for a hibernation chamber, which it says would help reduce an astronaut’s “footprint” aboard a spacecraft to Mars.

The chamber’s intranasal cooling system would lower the astronaut’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, significantly reducing metabolism. This is known as a “torpor-induced state using therapeutic hypothermia,” a procedure developed by medical doctors for the treatment of patients.

While asleep, an astronaut would be fed via catheters attached to the thigh or chest, while another tube carries waste away. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation might be used to stave off muscle atrophy.

As the astronauts approach Mars, the wake-up cycle begins. Warming pads slowly raise the body’s temperature. It takes roughly one hour for every 1 degree rise in body temperature.

Fully awake after their long nap, the astronauts are ready to begin their Mars mission.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Mars spacecraft leaving Earth orbit
2. External view of deep sleep chamber
3. Astronauts strap themselves into deep sleep chamber
4. Intranasal cooling lowers body temperature; nutrition provided via catheters; tubes carry away urine
5. Astronauts sleep
6. Robot arms provide neuromuscular electrical stimulation to stave off muscle atrophy
7. Spacecraft approaches Mars
8. Warming pads slowly raise body temperatures
9. Astronauts fully awake

VOICEOVER (in English):
“A group of scientists funded by NASA think astronauts could pass most of that time by hibernating in a sleep chamber, much like what you see here.”

“Each chamber is outfitted with tubes that lower the body’s temperature as well as provide nutrition.”

“An intranasal cooling system would lower the astronaut’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which significantly reduces metabolism.”

“The astronaut is fed via catheters attached to the thigh or chest, while another tube carries waste away.”

“This result is what’s called a torpor-induced state using therapeutic hypothermia.”

“One concern is muscles atrophy due to lack of use. Scientists think they can address this through neuromuscular electrical stimulation.”

“As the astronauts approach Mars, the wake-up cycle begins.”

“Warming pads slowly raise the body’s temperature. It takes roughly one hour for every 1 degree rise in body temperature.”

“Fully awake after their long nap, the astronauts are ready to begin their Mars mission.”

SOURCES:
https://www.nasa.gov/content/torpor-inducing-transfer-habitat-for-human-stasis-to-mars