NASA's Plan for Real-Life Stasis Could Get Us to Mars
Countless sci-fi movies and television shows that take place in deep space depict long-term human hibernation, including the Alien/Prometheus series, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate, and Avatar. As is often the case, sci-fi may not be that far off the mark, as NASA believes that stasis will be crucial to future missions to Mars and other locations in deep space.
NASA announced at the recent International Astronomical Congress that they are currently collaborating with aerospace company SpaceWorks in order to create a product called RhinoChill, which can place astronauts in a hypothermic state in which their life functions are slowed down to a crawl, so they can sleep almost indefinitely. The method is similar to the methods portrayed in the above films, but instead of applying the cold temperatures externally, RhinoChill will use invasive tubes to inject cooling liquid into the nose and brain.
The technology has not been built or tested yet, but is still in the investigation stages. SpaceWorks president Dr. John Bradford said, "We have completed the initial evaluation of our concept which demonstrated significant benefits against non-torpor Mars mission approaches and established the medical plausibility of torpor. We have expanded our team and put together a development plan that we are in the process of executing.
SpaceWorks makes clear that "enabling access to Mars is our ultimate objective," and indeed, stasis would solve many problems inherent to space travel. The resources needed to keep the crew alive for several months would be cut down tremendously, as sustenance could be delivered intravenously by robots. Exercise equipment would no longer be necessary, as the robots could stimulate major muscle groups periodically. Overall, the ships would be smaller and lighter, which would cut down on fuel needs and overall costs, which would have a huge impact on the feasibility of manned deep space missions. Not to mention there would likely be immeasurable psychological benefits; although it is difficult to conduct adequate psychological study of astronauts, most of the data has shown that transient anxiety and depression is all-too-common. With this technology, astronauts would simply go to sleep and wake up at Mars, rather than undergoing a long, stressful, and isolating mission.
Bradford is confident that the technology will come to fruition, and will be instrumental in trips like Mars One. "I believe our technology will be required to support human missions to Mars. It offers an affordable solution by leveraging ongoing medical research to address challenges spanning engineering, human health, and psychology for which we do not have alternate solutions. This can be ready for the first Mars mission and we are talking with partners to make this happen."