We don’t yet have self-aware robots or low cost transportation to orbit but we do have iPhones and Google search. The latter two are just as sci-fi as the former two technologies for someone who grew up in the 1960s. The future really is hard to predict. Some tech that seemed almost in hand keeps getting pushed further into the future while occasionally something that seemed extremely far-fetched turns out to be well within reach.
For example, suspended animation, also referred to as induced hibernation or extended torpor (see post here), has been a common plot device in science fiction for ages. It played a prominent role, for example, in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey where several members of a crew going to Jupiter were put into hibernation to reduce the amount of food, oxygen, etc, needed for the trip. Until recently, I thought this was no closer to reality than Hal but it looks like it might nearly be in hand : Suspended Animation Human Trials About to Begin – IFLScience.
It shouldn’t in fact be too surprising. Maintaining patients in unconscious states for days is done routinely in hospitals. Coma patients can be kept alive for months, even years. Occasionally there are reports of someone awakening from a long term coma and continuing with a normal life. So the mechanics of maintaining the vital systems appears to be well understood.
The induced torpor research is aiming to go the next step and lower body temperature to slow metabolic processes even further than in a comatose state. As mentioned in the above article, doctors are using Therapeutic Hypothermia (TH) already to deal with some traumatic injuries.
In the video below (starting at 55:30) from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium held back in February (see post here), John Bradford of SpaceWorks Engineering and his collaborator Douglas Talk discussed such issues in a presentation about their proposed Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitat For Human Stasis To Mars. Here are their slides (pdf) and see also this infographic (pdf).
As with Discovery-1 expedition, they are proposing to place a crew
in inactive, low-metabolic Torpor state for mission transfer phases by leveraging evolving medical advances in Therapeutic Hypothermia and Total Parenteral Nutrition.
The benefits of this include:
– Reduction in mission consumables due to inactive crew
– Reduced pressurized volume required for living quarters
– Eliminate many ancillary crew accommodations (food galley, eating supplies, cooking, exercise equipment, entertainment, etc.)
– Minimize psychological challenges for crew