Travel to Mars today is discussed everywhere and everywhere. Private and public organizations seriously intend to conquer the Red Planet. Ilon Mask presented his plans to create a new rocket that will allow SpaceX to reach Mars first, while NASA is preparing a new rover in the framework of the mission of Mars 2020. But space flight with human participation is many times more serious than sending robots and conducting experiments outside the Earth. It is necessary not only to build a suitable rocket, to calculate the journey in microgravity conditions and remotely to make an ideal landing on Mars, also it will be necessary to do everything possible so that the crew of people would survive without any outside help.
There are also questions about how to collect enough food and water to support the crew and to keep the rocket not too heavy, but at the same time it was a free place for living. And what if someone becomes deadly ill or will claustrophobia develop? For six months, anything can happen, and not only in space – on Earth.
Using a $ 500,000 grant from NASA, the Bradford team is working on adapting a promising medical procedure that could resolve many space-related restrictions. At the annual Hello Tomorrow Summit in Paris, Bradford shared his team’s concept of immersing the crew in the so-called “low metabolic state.” In other words, we are talking about immersing the crew in hibernation.
The idea is based on the existing medical practice of therapeutic hypothermia, or directed temperature control. It is used in the case of cardiac arrest and neonatal encephalopathy. The patient is cooled to 33 degrees Celsius for 48 hours to prevent tissue damage due to lack of blood flow. Then sedatives are injected, causing sleep. Former Formula One racer Michael Schumacher was immersed in such a state after a ski accident in 2013.
By adapting this procedure to a space flight, the crew will be fed and watered directly into the stomach using an endoscopic gastronomic tube. This eliminates the need for food and standard digestion. Also, electrical stimulation of the whole body will be used to avoid muscle atrophy.
The Bradford team found that in this state of sleep, the body needs one-third less food and water for self-maintenance, which significantly reduces the weight of the payload for the Martian missions.
Most of the concept is devoted to the rotation of the sleeping and awake. Currently, medical procedures last from two to three days, so the plan is to extend the time during which a person is in anabiosis, up to eight days. By adding a two-day wake period, you can schedule so that a single crew member watches the rest, and the rest are eight days in sleep mode and two are in wake-up mode.
This does not mean that people will sleep throughout the journey, but such periods will make it easier to travel for the greater part of the crew, reduce the weight of psychological and physical stress, and also distribute resources on board more competently. Also there is a hope that time in such anabiosis will be increased to several weeks.
Not only SpaceWorks is studying the idea of immersing a person in a dream during a space trip. The European Space Agency instructed its Advanced Concepts team to do, among other things, these studies. But the last work on this topic was published already in 2004.
Skeptics tend to doubt the ability of the human body to effectively and safely “wake up” after long periods of hibernation, as well as whether our bodies can adapt to healthy work at low temperatures. We evolved to work in a certain way (a day through three, yeah), and the effects of long-term exposure to low temperatures have not yet been fully explored.
The SpaceWorks research team has short-term and long-term prospects. The knowledge that we will get in the way of research of hibernation can be useful in the medical field, for example, in organ transplantation and emergency treatment in extreme conditions.
Of course, all this will not be soon. According to Bradford, we will start using anabiosis in manned missions no earlier than 2030. And since Ilon Mask plans to send the first settlers with a missile as early as 2024, they will have to use proven methods already.