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Scientists think they might be able to put astronauts into ‘suspended animation’

Published Jun 24th, 2023 9:01AM EDT
A fictional spacecraft approaches the Moon.
Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KBRwyle)

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It may one day be possible to put astronauts in a type of suspended animation similar to that seen in science fiction movies. The idea was brought to life following successful tests where scientists blasted the brains of mice and rats with ultrasound, inducing a hibernation-like state. The technique, researchers argue, could also be used on injured humans or astronauts in the future.

This method is the first of its kind, and the researchers say it works by firing ultrasound at the region of the brain that controls the body’s metabolism and body temperature. The scientists say the technique showed promise in being able to lower the rodent’s average body temperature by around 6.25 degrees Fahrenheit. It also slowed down their heart rates and reduced the amount of oxygen they required.

The hope is that the success of this animal study could provide scientists with much-needed clues to help figure out hibernation-like states, or torpor, for humans that are both safe and non-invasive. A paper on the new findings has been published in the journal Nature Metabolism.

3D rendering of spaceflight hibernation tubesImage source: roman3d / Adobe

Obviously, there are a lot of potential usages for this kind of technique. Not only would it prove helpful in the medical environment for extending the possible windows of treatment, but deep space missions to planets like Mars could also benefit from being able to put astronauts into a hibernation-like suspended animation.

“If successfully demonstrated in humans, this technology holds significant potential for medical applications,” lead study author Hong Chen told Live Science. Because it not only lowers body temperature, but also lowers the amount of oxygen needed, it would also mean some refinements to the oxygen systems utilized on spacecraft for manned missions to Mars and other places.

Scientists have long hoped to be able to harvest the benefits of a torpid-like sleep technique for humans, and if this study is any indication, we could be moving in the right direction to actually make something like that happen.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.