A NASA Mars deep sleep project is a great way for the space agency to cut the cost of a human expedition to the Red Planet.
A Mars study done by NASA explored deep sleep as a way for the crew to hibernate during the 180-day journey to the Red Planet, but it would seem like one week for the astronaut.
Ever since the space agency announced the discovery of water on the planet, it has looked at ways to cut costs for exploration. Water makes it possible for astronauts to live and grow their own food on the Red Planet. Now the NASA Mars deep sleep project is another way to save money.
Aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, told the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto this week:
“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 … 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.”
The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions with existing medical procedures. Torpor also can occur naturally in cases of hypothermia. Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time. Schaffer said:
“We haven’t had the need to keep someone in (therapeutic torpor) for longer than seven days … For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we’re talking about.”
Crews can live inside smaller ships with fewer amenities like galleys, exercise gear and of course water, food and clothing. One design includes a spinning habitat to provide a low-gravity environment to help offset bone and muscle loss. Economically, the NASA Mars deep sleep project looks impressive.
SpaceWorks’ study, which was funded by NASA, shows a five-fold reduction in the amount of pressurized volume need for a hibernating crew and a three-fold reduction in the total amount of mass required, including consumables like food and water.
The NASA Mars deep sleep idea is also backed with a lot of support. Overall, putting a crew in stasis cuts the baseline mission requirements from about 400 tons to about 220 tons. “That’s more than one heavy-lift launch vehicle,” Schaffer said.