Real-Life Suspended Animation on Space Voyages Won't Be Too Different From 'Alien'

Thursday, 07 September 2017 - 11:18AM
Technology
Space
Mars
Thursday, 07 September 2017 - 11:18AM
Real-Life Suspended Animation on Space Voyages Won't Be Too Different From 'Alien'
Image credit: 20th Century Fox
The problem with space is that it's really, really big. There's a lot of dead space in between all the interesting bits, and that means that it's going to take a while to get to anywhere that humans might want to explore and colonize. Even our closest neighbor, Mars, is an eight-month trip away from Earth, which creates all kinds of problems when it comes to food and oxygen.

One solution is to find ways of recycling as much of astronauts' bodily waste as possible, but as useful as screwdrivers made out of urine might be, sooner or later we're going to have to crack the suspended animation conundrum if we want to become a successful space-faring species.

According to a recent article from Popular Science, the very real research that NASA is currently undertaking into cryosleep won't be too dissimilar from what we've seen in movies—there'll be sedatives, IV drips, catheters, and a genuine cooling of the body to slow your metabolism down.



While it's not hugely comforting to imagine that the Alien movies provide a particularly accurate depiction of life among the stars, the scene in Aliens where the colonial marines all awaken from cryosleep is pretty accurate. First, astronauts will enter torpor pods. Inside the pod, they'll be given sedatives to knock them out before their bodies are physically cooled to about as low as the human body can drop—the point at which hypothermia would kick, if they were conscious. They'll also be given an anti-coagulant to thin their blood, preventing dangerous clots that could cause internal damage.

The tubes and sensors in the above clip are accurate too—not only will astronauts be given regular sedatives to keep them under, but they'll be fed through a tube at all times, thanks to a tasty nutrient and calorie mix that's pumped down into the stomach or dribbled down the throat, which is probably about as much fun as it sounds.

Vasquez instantly jumping into doing pull-ups is also reflective of what astronauts will get to enjoy periodically throughout a long voyage. The problem with staying still for an extended time is that your muscles tend to atrophy— something that even conscious astronauts have to fend off by exercising constantly while in space, thanks to the lack of gravity. Astronauts in suspended animation will therefore need to be awakened every couple of weeks for several days in order to stretch their legs, flex their muscles, and make sure that they don't turn into puddles of jelly while in their torpor pods.



Plus, getting everybody to move around periodically avoids the very real danger of Chris Pratt waking up early and rubbing his naked butt on all the chairs. It's been known to happen.

The big drawback to this kind of suspended animation is that it's hardly a long-term solution. Astronauts will still age while asleep, so it won't be the kind of cryosleep that allows Ripley to outlive her own daughter while napping in a freezer. Going to sleep in one of these torpor pods means willingly sleeping through months of life that won't be recouped at a later date.

Maybe it's worth enduring a long nap (followed by what will probably be the hangover from hell) if it means being among the first people to walk on the dusty surface of Mars.
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