In the wake of the Internet, mobile phones and video conferencing, science fiction may once again become reality. The European Space Agency hopes to send astronauts in a hibernation-like state to the stars.
Humans may one day sleep their way to Mars
Stanley Kubrick already treated us to images of sleeping astronauts traveling though the universe in his 1969 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." Now the European Space Agency (ESA) wants to make it a reality, if it can.
The space consortium plans to research the possibilities of sending humans in deep sleep traveling through space, the nature.com Website has reported. "We are not sure whether it is possible (to induce hibernation in humans)," Marco Biggiogera, an ESA advisor and expert on hibernation at the University of Pavia, Italy told Nature magazine's online news service. "But it's not crazy."
Bears and other mammals know the advantages of a long slumber to get them through the harsh winter
In such a state, humans might be better able to psychologically endure space journeys over many years or even decades. They would also eat and drink less, saving weight on provisions and making it easier to launch the spacecraft.
Slumbering through space
But the technology won't be ready for at least 10 years, ESA scientist Marc Ayre estimated. Ayre and his colleagues are already looking into the possibilities of injected an opium-like substance called DADLE that has sent squirrels into hibernation. DADLE can also slow down the activities of human cells, Biggiogera's research team reported in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Further studies with DADLE are underway on rats at the University of Verona. Researcher Carlo Zancanaro is examining the effects of the medication Dobutamin, which strengthens the heart muscle and could be used to prevent muscle deterioration, a hazard of long-term immobility.
As ESA drafts its research plans on hibernation though, there's no real hurry: long-term manned space travel isn't planned until the 2030 mission to Mars.