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NASA Mars Space Transportation

NASA Eyes Crew Deep Sleep Option For Mars Mission 236

astroengine writes: A NASA-backed study explores an innovative way to dramatically cut the cost of a human expedition to Mars — put the crew in stasis. The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions with existing medical procedures. Torpor also can occur naturally in cases of hypothermia. "Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, said at the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto this week. "Protocols exist in most major medical centers for inducing therapeutic hypothermia on patients to essentially keep them alive until they can get the kind of treatment that they need." Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way.
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NASA Eyes Crew Deep Sleep Option For Mars Mission

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  • by Meshach ( 578918 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @01:52PM (#48057247)
    If they are just sleeping (or in whatever state they are in) will not their muscles deteriorate? After having no nourishment for several weeks most people will waste away to nothing.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2014 @01:58PM (#48057291)

      Well, the article has the following text pretty much at the top:

      "During interplanetary transit, the crew would receive low-level electrical impulses to key muscle groups to prevent muscular atrophy."

      • Thanks for RTFA for me. Now I won't bother.

      • by DittoBox ( 978894 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:07PM (#48057379) Homepage

        This won't help with bone density loss, lowered heart strength, or a number of other issues.

        • You'll lose most of that on Mars anyway. Reduced gravity :)
          • Maybe we should try for the Moon? It's a lot closer, and it would give us time to work out these types of issues?
            • Maybe we should try for the Moon? It's a lot closer, and it would give us time to work out these types of issues?

              I'm with you on that.

              Seems to me, the "cold sleep" option mainly solves the problems of crew space, resources, and radiation. Those are not small things.

              A long-term space expedition must have room to move and exercise. That's a lot of size and mass. Then it needs food to promote exercise and waking function, and waste disposal to match. And THEN all that has to be wrapped in effective radiation shielding, which adds a lot more mass.

              Eliminate the exercise, confine the crew to a small space, feed int

              • Why should any 'sleep option' solve any radiation issue?
                WTF you always proclaim you had a clue about physics, another post of yours where it is clear: you have not!
                Ah, you try to talk about shielding, face palm ... the volume you shield is irrelevant, the main hazard is the sun, which is 'behind' you. Actually, reliable shielding is impossible anyway. We are not talking about a nuclear reactor where one yard of lead or ten yards of water are a nice shielding.
                Radiation in this case are atomic particles at re

                • Reliable shielding isn't impossible. Shielding of 4.41 tons/m^2 [] is sufficient. Putting the crew in hibernation does reduce shielding because otherwise the entire back side of the spacecraft (at least) has to be covered with 4.41 tons/m^2 of shielding. In hibernation, the crew could be closely packed and aligned with their feet towards the sun, reducing the required shielding area and mass.
                  • Hypothetically ...
                    In real live that is irrelevant. Regardless if your 4.41 ton/m^2 is right (sounds a retarded measurement, tons of what? Lead? Water?) The number you quote does not show up in the link :D

                    I never said shielding is impossible, but the question if one is hibernated for 9month versus awake for 6month versus in danger of "radiation" for either 6 or 9 or 12 months ... has not much to do with shielding.

                    As I said before: I had no problem being awake on such a journey, there are plenty of books to r

                    • NASA found that 441 grams/cm^2 [] of silicon dioxide (Moon dust) would be sufficient shielding, which equals 4.41 tons/m^2 []. Hibernation dangers and personal preference regarding books may vary, of course.
                    • Erm, your numbers still make no sense, as the real question is only the thickness.
                      In other words: the bigger the ship in diameter the more shielding you obviously need, but the thickness over that area would be rhe same.
                      So, how thick should such a ahield be? 2m? 5m?

                    • A hibernating crew could be closely packed and aligned with their feet towards the sun, reducing the required shielding area and mass at constant thickness. That's because only the hibernation chamber would need to be shielded, not the entire ship.
                    • Yes, but we still don't know how big the shielding would be :)
                      Hence we can not judge if it makes any sense (shielding wise, and based on shielding, fuel wise)
                      And actually, you very likely wont align them with the feet to the sun. That makes no sense. If one gets hit by a particle into the foot, it will likely go straight through the whole body to the brain. It is much better to put the people perpendicular to the sun. If one gets hit somewhere the particle just goes out of the other side with much less dama

                    • If the main hazard is the sun, that requires thicker shielding on the sunward side. Minimum shielding mass would then be obtained by putting 4.41 tons/m^2 on the sunward side, which given moon dust density [] equals a ~2.4 meter thick shield on the sunward side. If the people are perpendicular to the sun, that shield is heavier. The people are awake and moving around, that shield is much heavier.
                    • A hibernating crew could be closely packed and aligned with their feet towards the sun,

                      If you do that, you preclude the use of rotation as a simulation of gravity to deal with bone deterioration.

                  • As I implied elsewhere, when you minimize solar radiation you are eliminating most of the energetic radiation/particles, but by no means all. We already know this from Spacelab and ISS experience. If you ignore extrasolar energetic particles you're just being stupid. Unless you plan a 1-way trip. Which has been suggested.

                    Certainly most of the shielding should be between the sun and the crew. But it's not all the shielding necessary. And though the "other" shielding need not be as heavy, its area is much
                    • I never said we should ignore extrasolar particles. I was just showing that even using angel'o'sphere's assumption that the sun is the main hazard, the shielding mass decreases for a hibernating crew. In other words, I was defending you, Jane. Even though I can't be trusted to build a bridge over a creek.

                      But since you brought up those other arguments...

                      There is no reason to "guess" at my reasoning. I spelled it out quite clearly when we had our "argument" (which you lost). You do realize this is all going t

                    • We've been over this before, and you already know the answers I've given you. Stop being a grandstanding asshole. I don't have to keep repeating my answers every time you demand them. That's called ASSHOLE behavior, asshole. You have already seen my calculations and my answers to all these questions. By bringing them up and demanding them AGAIN in a different forum, you are advertising your own dishonesty. It didn't work. Don't worry, as I promised this will all be published when I find the time. [Jane Q. []

                • the main hazard is the sun, which is 'behind' you.

                  That depends on your trajectory. The planets aren't in one straight line, remember.

              • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

                The flip side of that is toughening up the ship to provide protection between faults, emergencies, impacts and crew wake up time. How long it takes to crew to go from extended sleep to active functioning, in the movies, they always fast forward through this, likely reality is days, during which they will have to be exercising a lot to rebuild muscles.

                What efficiency accept reality a place size limits on access to the space program, no taller than say 1.6m and that reduction really does make a saving in l

            • Or you know, Earth.

              If we were going to practically do this, we'd be doing it here, in a hospital first. We'd have to take a bunch of people, and have them asleep for 180 days under the same conditions as the trick, and see what the effects - physical and psychological, actually were.

        • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:30PM (#48057545)
          Maybe it's time to actually design a ship with a centrifuge in it, so that a lot of the effects of microgravity are mitigated...
          • This is also in TFA:

            One design includes a spinning habitat to provide a low-gravity environment to help offset bone and muscle loss.

          • by wasteoid ( 1897370 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @05:16PM (#48058895)
            Plus by the time the ship arrives at its destination, the good astronauts will be separated from the bad ones.
          • Turns out, that is probably a LOT harder than we'd imagine. You know the 'stationary' bike they use on the ISS to keep in shape? turns out, its attached to the station in all sorts of weird special ways to keep you from shaking the station to pieces/rotating the station due to the forces the spinning wheel/pedaling action causes. If a exercise bike in space is that bloody hard, imagine what a ship with a multi-person hamster wheel will be like to engineer.
            • by TWX ( 665546 )
              I'm thinking something like a contrarotating set of cylinders, inner and outer, with the inner being the habitat. On top of that, there would be a series of weights located on the inside cylinder that could be automatically shifted as the weight in the habitat moves around, to keep it in balance.

              I've built engines, and while they are statically balanced, and do not change balance once set up, they can be either internally balanced, where the weight is added or removed from the crank as needed, or extern
      • "During interplanetary transit, the crew would receive low-level electrical impulses to key muscle groups to prevent muscular atrophy."

        What about "that" muscle? Or is it going to be an all-women crew?

    • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:05PM (#48057361)

      My teenager sleeps all day but still can walk and talk when she gets up.

    • I suppose NASA will fatten the astronauts up and make them nice and chubby before sending them on a mission.

  • Sounds a bit risky (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Friday October 03, 2014 @01:56PM (#48057281) Homepage Journal
    The problem with this idea is that if anything goes wrong there's no hospital you can rush the people to, and there is always a risk of something going wrong when you start messing with biological systems like this. I suppose we are getting more data about the process regularly from hospitals, but NASA is going to want to do a lot of their own experiments first. I guess since we are nowhere near getting ready to launch the Mars mission it isn't too bad. They still have time.
    • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:03PM (#48057347)

      More or less risky than putting a team of men and/or women in a tin can and blasting them toward Mars?

      No matter what, they're going to end up at least 6,778km from the nearest hospital. :)

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Yeah, one has to balance the effects of 6+ months one-way in a small metal box while awake and possibly having conflicts with fellow astronauts and cabin fever that one can't even go out on-deck to mitigate versus people that don't wake up again.

        I expect that years of studies, including Earth-orbiting studies will be conducted before we ever send people to Mars this way.
      • :) but in that case at least they're not also holding them at death's door.

        there's a reason anesthesiologists make the big bucks. :)

        death is no shy wallflower, you ask her to dance, you better be ready to get danced.

        • Putting people into a medically induced coma (or some sort of other suspension) isn't the trick. It's waking them up.

    • Launch the mission in autumn. Send bears. Natural organic hibernation to Mars!

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:07PM (#48057381)

      If anything goes wrong, they'll just wake up in a distant future where everyone is really stupid, or they're a delivery boy, or the Earth is ruled by damned dirty apes. Either way, hilarious hijinks and adventures will follow. Problem solved!

    • You're giving them too much credit. Yes, these ideas have been used to great effect in emergency rooms around the world: chilling someone for a few hours, even days in extreme cases can do wonders depending on the situation. Chilling someone for a few months? 18 months? I think I'll pass on that one, at the very least I'll wait a good long time while a few 10s of thousands of others try it first.

    • by dpilot ( 134227 )

      It's going to be interesting for the test subjects. You don't really think that they're first going to use this on the way to Mars, do you? I would suspect that the first many-month tests will be right here on Earth, with continuous monitoring, and they'll probably build time up from the current week until they reach the target.

      Then at some point they'll ship the "hibernaculum" up to the ISS for the next layers of testing. They'll probably again ramp the time up, looking for zero-G degradations. By the

  • I beg you --- don't do it! As we know from SciFi movies, only bad things happen when astronauts wake up.
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:09PM (#48057391) Homepage
    Nasa is using a combination appropach to this statis project. Whereas before drugs and temperature controlled environments had to be used, the far more economical approach of C-SPAN recordings of US Senator Robert Byrd are used to maintain a comatose like state. This is induced with a combination of John Kerry lectures and once astronauts must be awakened, the system automatically switches to arguments against climate change as presented by the congressional science committee.
  • Even better idea... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by itzly ( 3699663 )
    Just leave the people at home, and send a robot to do the work.
    • That won't help us when the Earth stops supporting life, or a mega disease wipes out everyone on earth. We really need to start planning to migrate away from a single source of failure for our species. Human exploration of Mars is the first logical step.
      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        Even if Mars would support life, you could realistically only move a tiny portion of the human population over there, so your mega disease would still kill nearly everybody.
      • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @03:21PM (#48058009)
        There are no conceivable circumstances where Earth would be less suitable for life than Mars. Even during the worst extinction level events, Earth was a paradise compared to Mars.
        • You're just lacking in imagination is all. Of course, Earth's big advantage is having this stuff called "air", which contains this stuff called "oxygen". Otherwise, (besides Mars being smaller and colder and having no magnetic field) they're pretty similar.
          • "Otherwise, (besides Mars being smaller and colder and having no magnetic field) they're pretty similar."

            So you make his point: worse case scenario, Earth won't be any worse than Mars, so it seems wiser to...
            a) hope for the best: maybe Earth's worst case scenario doesn't happen
            b) Only once worse case scenario you go afte the "terraforming" endevour, only here, in the Earth, instead of going to Mars to do the same in a worse planet: being shorter you will always have a harder day to sustain an atmosphere the

        • I can conceive a few circumstances. Sun, red giant phase, will engulf the Earth. Life will probably be impossible on Mars, too, by that time, but if I were forced to choose a place to live between them, I'd choose Mars.

      • "That won't help us when the Earth stops supporting life"

        A colony on Mars won't help _us_ when Earth stops supporting life, either. It might help those living in Mars, though.

        "We really need to start planning to migrate away from a single source of failure for our species."

        Yes, I also feel the dramatic feeling of "our species". But think a bit deeper about it. What's the hell with "our" species? What do _you_ eventually earn from Home sapiens still being over there in a thousand years or not?

    • by Toshito ( 452851 )

      So we just don't have to take a trip to anywhere now?

      And it's not an argument against sending robot, it makes a lot of sense from a science point of view and I'm all for it.

      But it's boring as hell. Last January I went to Paris for the first time, and let me tell you that it's way different than looking at beautiful pictures and exploring via Google Street View.

      I would love to be able to go to the Moon or Mars someday... not that I think it will come to be in my lifetime sadly.

  • the link to one posted here in 2011: []
  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:29PM (#48057541)

    So, we've saved 180 days worth of food and consumables for each passenger, but have done so at great risk to them. Okay, sure. Now, if we can just keep them in that state, we may not need the substantially greater amount of supplies that are necessary to sustain life once they actually arrive at their destination.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:38PM (#48057631)

    Captain: "Please re-animate the mars crew!"
    HAL 9000: "Windows 420 refuses to boot in secure mode.",
                                        "Would you like to play a game of solitaire on Windows XP instead?"

  • by burni2 ( 1643061 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:44PM (#48057685)

    All information points to Torpor as a short term treatment option - indeed there are animals but those are adapted to that condition, humans are not.

    The first set of problems that comes to my mind are kidney stones -> Solution catheter/bladder flushning -> next problem infections in the urinary tract due to catheters. Due to the urinary tract not being "flushed" regularly keeping the germs in the lower urinary system. This problem is also much more challenging for women.

    Also the subjection of different germ kinds to the lower temperature needs to be taken into account.

    Different germ populations have different temperature ranges were they show different reproduction rates. If the cold condition does not favour the reproduction rate that the lactic acid producing germs over the germs from No.2
    this can lead to -> Vaginal flora will be less acidic = starting point for "unwanted/dangerous" germs from No.2

    Don't think that when your body is in this "pseudo stasis"
    germs are too, they aren't.

    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      TFA says it has been used up to seven days in humans, so it's only a factor of ten or so to get a significant chuck of Mars transport out of the way.

      In general, chemical reactions slow down with temperature, and while typical therapeutic hypothermia involves fairly high temperatures (~33 C) there may be room to reduce this considerably. Humans will never hibernate without a whole lot of physiological intervention, but it is far too early to say whether or not metabolic activity--including that of our commen

  • by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @02:55PM (#48057779)

    At the risk of proposing simplistic answers to these technical questions (as per /. standard), I don't know why NASA isn't considering nuclear propulsion as their first choice for crewed missions to Mars. The nuclear thermal engines were investigated intensively and test articles tested and built in the 60's and were ostensibly cancelled only because there was no mission for them, not due to technical show-stoppers. Once you have a nuclear capability, trips around the Solar System become nearly routine. NASA should let Musk work on chemical rockets for his Mars trips and spend tax money on nuclear which the private guys can't do.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2014 @03:30PM (#48058109)

      And pollute the vaccuum of space with all that radiation? Some of us have to breathe that stuff!

    • []
      (successfully tested)

      You also need to carry a big reactor = big mass (F=m*a) with you + propellant and thus combined with radiation protection problems for the crew and the inefficiency of the system if your mass gain(reactor+additionalshielding) outruns your win (2x specific impulse) over chemical rockets the system is out of question.

      Like that "nuclear bomb drive". Sweet on the outside but bitter if you dig into the realisation problems.

    • Yes, some nuclear engines were tested and yes, none of them exactly blew up. But nuclear engines wouldn't make a Mars trip any less expensive or much shorter. It's estimated that a nuclear rocket would shorten the length of a Mars trip from 6 months to... 4 months. And this would come at huge increase in mission complexity and cost. Not worth it.

      For exploring the outer solar system, though, nuclear rockets could have value.

      • Study I read said it could be done in 39 days using a 10MW VASIMR engine. Now, that was written by the group pushing the technology, and may have been a bit optimistic; but, we can do better than 4 months.
        • I don't really get why american so often have the argument "it was written by a group of".
          Is the USA really that retarded, I mean: do such groups really exist? How can they survive and be a problem? I don't get it!

          Regarding a vasimir engine: the math is straight forward! WTF is the problem in realizing that this is a viable engine?

          • I was politely trying to say that it was written by the company Ad Astra Rocket Company and they have an interest in promoting VASIMR. Yes the math is straight forward and I believe the technology works. However, I have seen (and worked for) companies that will write white papers that put everything in the most favorable light, even if the result is optimistic, and frankly not realistic. Overstating efficiencies, for example, by using the best case numbers observed in the R&D lab, and not the real-wo
        • VASIMR isn't a nuclear rocket, and nuclear power in space currently falls far short of the required W/kg requirements.

          • I know VASIMR isn't a nuclear rocket (although at some field densities with the right fuels and energy input, the math shows there is the potential for limited amounts of fusion). VASIMR engines of that size will require a nuclear plant to power them. -- and I'm not talking about RTG's here. Frankly, this is territory we've not explored really, beyond a few early ground tests and small scale (10kW) fission reactors launched in the '60's and '70's (SNAP, RORSATs, Topaz) which mostly used thermoelectric c
            • > (although at some field densities with the right fuels and energy input, the math shows there is the potential for limited amounts of fusion)

              It's not hard to achieve fusion. What's hard is getting more energy than you put in. VASIMR can never produce a self-sustaining fusion reaction unless you're talking about gigawatt-scale power levels. And even then, there's no indication that it will actually work in practice (it most certainly won't, if decades of experience in plasma physics is anything to go by

  • If they use a Lyle Drive. []
  • Drake: Hey, Hicks. Man, you look just like I feel.

    Drake: They ain't paying us enough for this, man.
    Dietrich: Not enough to have to wake up to your face, Drake.
    Drake: What? Is that a joke?
    Dietrich: Oh, I wish it were.

    Apone: All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm.
    Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!

    Hudson: Man, this floor is free
  • by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @05:39PM (#48059045) Journal
    I hereby coin the word "torpornauts," which had zero Google hits when I checked.
  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Friday October 03, 2014 @09:57PM (#48060625)
    I wonder what happens to guts microbes with 180 days of intravenous feeding. If we fail to slow down their metabolism too, they will start to eat the host's bowels.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith