Science fiction no more — we will soon be able to send people into space for months, even years (or possibly thousands of years) at a time with new technology just publicly introduced by a company called Spaceworks. NASA is also promoting Spacework’s fully functional hibernation chamber as a viable technology.
By placing people in a state of hibernation, slowing their heart rates, respiratory rates, and other important bodily functions utilizing what medical doctors call, “therapeutic hypothermia,” people will travel extremely long distances in space. This would be the first timedeep-space travel would be conceivable outside of black budget government projects and sci-fi movies churned out by Hollywood.
The technology, presented by Dr. John Bradford, SpaceWorks’ President and COO, is featured in a Sony Press Release regarding the new Passengers movie – and his work isn’t just being featured in the movies. Bradford says that his company expects to have a fully functioning “torpor-enabled transfer habitat” for human exploration of space by 2018.
The movie Passengers will feature a real-life version of space exploration wherein passengers put to ‘sleep’ in a stasis chamber will travers the universe, and look for a new home on another star, but this seemingly outlandish image represents a very real technology which is already being developed.
NASA is also featuring the technology. You can see a hatch-view of the habitat, here. NASA.gov states,
The process works by utilizing a medical treatment normally relegated for extreme medical cases like traumatic brain injury or cardiac arrest, so that doctors can slow physiological functions down enough to work on a patient, often surgically, when seconds count. Therapeutic hypothermia cools the body temperature to between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius (normal body temperature is 37C). This cooling slows both the heart rate and blood pressure.
When used in a medical environment, the body is normally only kept in ‘stasis’ for 24-48 hours, but with slight adjustments, scientists believe they can keep the body in a hypothermic state for months, or even years. There is already an indication that longer periods of stasis do relative little harm, as a Japanese man once survived in a hypothermic state for 24 hours after falling from a mountain ledge.
“There would be some robotic arms and monitoring systems taking care of [the passengers]. They’d have small transnasal tubes for the cooling and some warming systems as well, to bring them back from stasis,” Bradford explained in an interview. Another key difference between real-life stasis chambers and sci-fi versions will be the details of how the technology actually works.
Interstellar space missions are now closer than ever, with animal testing planned for 2018, and a full roll-out for human passengers soon after.