Remember when you were a kid, and your parents loaded you into the car for a long trip? Many times on those trips, you’d fall asleep for a large portion of the trip, and find that it seemed like you were there in no time. That’s what scientists are hoping they can force astronauts to do during a trip to Mars.
Until recently, no one has been able to figure out a way to make humans hibernate like bears and squirrels do. However, trials are now underway to test new techniques to put people in n a sleep-like state for days or even weeks, and then revive them with no ill effects. Given the length of time it will take for astronauts to get to far flung places like Mars, sleeping part of the way will help conserve food, water, and air. And, given that the explorers would be cooped up in very small ships for a long time, it may even conserve a bit of sanity.
A panel of European biomedical researchers, biologists and neuroscientists is expected to deliver recommendations for future lines of human hibernation research and funding soon. Meanwhile, scientists in Italy will start a clinical trial this month to lower the body temperature of a pig by inhibiting a part of the hypothalamus that controls energy levels, in effect inducing hypothermia. It’s a proof-of-concept trial that could lead to longer trials using animals that don’t normally hibernate.