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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

European Space Agency wants to put astronauts in hibernation for deep space travel

The European Space Agency is exploring the possibilities of human hibernation as a means of addressing the problem of sending humans into deep space.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Published: November 24, 2019 7:13:12 pm
human hibernation for deep space travel, european space agency Functional areas of the hibernation module: (1) private crew quarters, (2) exercise, (3) hygiene and waste, (4) dining and wardroom, (5) workstation, (6) galley and food, (7) medical supplies, (8) life support systems and stowage, (9) operational and maintenance supplies. (Image: ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring the possibilities of human hibernation to solve the problem of sending humans into deep space. The human hibernation has been the subject of initial research because of its potential benefits for space travel and featured in multiple Sci-Fi movies like Passengers, Alien, and more where astronauts are put into suspended animation to cross the vastness of space.

The ESA has assembled a dedicated “Topical Team” to study hibernation for manned space missions, which is accessing the advantages of human hibernation for a trip to a neighbouring planet, such as Mars. As its reference, the team took an existing mission study to send six humans to Mars and back in a five-year timescale, the ESA writes in an article on the Phys.org.

ESA is also doing an assessment on the current state of the art in human hibernation as well as the potential impact of hibernation on system-level mission design that involves adjusting the architecture of the spacecraft, its logistics, protection against radiation, and power consumption.

human hibernation for deep space travel, european space agency A cross-section through the hibernation module showing the individual quarters that would double as hibernation pods during the cruise phase. (Image: ESA)

“We looked at how an astronaut team could be best put into hibernation, what to do in case of emergencies, how to handle human safety and even what impact hibernation would have on the psychology of the team. Finally, we created an initial sketch of the habitat architecture and created a roadmap to achieve a validated approach to hibernate humans to Mars within 20 years,” said Robin Biesbroek of the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF)– a multimedia facility within ESA.

The study found that the hibernation would take place in small individual pods and allow the spacecraft mass to be reduced by a third by removing the crew quarters and consumables. The soft-shell pods of astronauts would be darkened and their temperature greatly reduced to cool their occupants during their projected 180-day Earth-Mars cruise.

“The hibernating cruise phase would end with a 21 day recuperation period—although based on the experience of animal hibernation, the expectation would be that the crew would not experience bone or muscle wastage,” ESA said.

human hibernation for deep space travel, european space agency A reference habitation module for a crewed Mars mission compared to its hibernation-based equivalent. (Image: ESA)

Since the hibernating crew will be spending so much time in their hibernation pods, they could be shielded from radiation exposure could be concentrated around them. “But with all the crew incapacitated for extended periods of time, the mission would have to be designed for largely autonomous operations, with optimum use of artificial intelligence and “fault detection, isolation and recovery” to maintain a minimum level of system performance until the crew could be revived,” the ESA said.

“We aim to build on this in future, by researching the brain pathways that are activated or blocked during initiation of hibernation, starting with animals and proceeding to people,” said ESA’s Jennifer Ngo-Anh.

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