Part of the problem of long-distance manned space voyages is that of the amount of consumables that would need to accompany the astronauts on their journey would add a significant amount of mass to the ship spacecraft, requiring more fuel for the trip to haul the extra food, water, etc., with that fuel adding yet even more weight to the craft — needless to say, sending humans to another planet would be a resource-expensive endeavor. One solution often used in science fiction is to place the space travelers into suspended animation, typically in a state of biological suspension akin to a deep sleep.
Aerospace company SpaceWorks has been tasked by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program to develop just such a form of suspended animation, based on the sci-fi idea of hypersleep. The science behind this idea, however, is one that is based in reality: current medical technology makes use of a technique called therapeutic hypothermia, where a patient recovering from a condition that caused reduced blood flow to the brain is placed in a sedated state, while their body temperature is lowered by a few degrees, to help improve their chance of recovery.
A patient can be kept in this metabolically-reduced state for a number of days, but the technique runs into difficulties if used over long periods of time. However, SpaceWorks’ experimental data says that they should be able to keep a prospective astronaut in what they term as an “inactive, low-metabolic torpor state for mission transit phases,” for about two weeks. If a trip to Mars, expected to take approximately eight months, were to stagger fortnight-long hibernation periods with short periods of normal wakefulness for the involved astronauts, this could translate into a huge reduction in their spacecraft’s weight.