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Astronauts could be put into artificial hibernation for deep space trips to Mars and beyond

Sun reporter, October 30, 2018 7:00PM The Sun

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Mars Base Camp is Lockheed Martin’s vision for sending humans to Mars in about 10 years. From the orbiting outpost, scientist/astronauts can take excursions in an Orion to the two moons of Mars. media_cameraMars Base Camp is Lockheed Martin’s vision for sending humans to Mars in about 10 years. From the orbiting outpost, scientist/astronauts can take excursions in an Orion to the two moons of Mars.

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Astronauts could be put into hibernation for trips to Mars, scientists predict.

Fictional* films such as Aliens and Interstellar show men and women being placed in deep freeze so that their bodily functions — such as breathing, circulation* and digestion* — slow down, like animals hibernating.

Critically endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums Gracie, Beryl and Sarabi at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria. These are Australia’s only hibernating marsupial. The zoo’s fridge is set at 2C, replicating conditions in the wild. media_cameraCritically endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums Gracie, Beryl and Sarabi at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria. These are Australia’s only hibernating marsupial. The zoo’s fridge is set at 2C, replicating conditions in the wild.

Animals do this in winter in extremely cold climates while food is scarce. Their body temperature drops to just above the air temperature so they aren’t using up energy keeping warm. Humans don’t naturally hibernate.

Scientists also wonder if hibernation could be useful to help humans live longer

Now experts are meeting in New Orleans in the US to discuss how the process can be artificially* copied for astronauts travelling huge distances out into space.

Dr Matthew Regan of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary* Medicine said: “It could protect them from space-related health hazards* and reduce demands on a spacecraft’s power capacities*.”

The theory* is hibernating crew are kept alive over vast cosmic* distances, reducing the need to take along huge stocks of food and water.

This means spacecrafts do not have to be so big and missions are cheaper while astronauts don’t get bored as they travel long distances through space.

Jack Fischer blowing bubbles on the International Space Station. Picture: Twitter media_cameraJack Fischer blowing bubbles on the International Space Station. Picture: Twitter

The American Physiological* Society’s meeting of scientists in New Orleans will explore how synthetic or artificial torpor* may be induced* by the brain, its similarities and differences to sleep, and how it could benefit astronauts.

This story was first published in The Sun and was reproduced with permission

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GLOSSARY

fictional: made up

circulation: blood moving around the body

digestion: breaking down and absorbing food

artificially: opposite to naturally

veterinary: animal medicine

hazards: dangers

capacities: how much is possible

theory: idea not yet tested

cosmic: the universe outside Earth

physiological: part of science to do with living organisms and how they function

torpor: state of mental and physical inactivity or shutdown

induced: brought on artificially

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. What are some of the bodily functions that slow down when an animal hibernates?

2. Why do animals hibernate?

3. What are the main reasons it could be good for astronauts to hibernate?

4. What does torpor mean?

5. What will the meeting of scientists explore?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Create a think box with four squares, answering the questions and brainstorming your ideas under each heading. Work with a classmate if you wish to share ideas.

Here are the questions for each box:

Would you want one of your family members going into artificial hibernation?

What could be some possible after-effects of putting the body into hibernation?

What are the human benefits of astronauts being in hibernation while in space? (good and bad)

Physical effects of hibernation on the body?

Extension: Do you think this research is more concerned with the human effects of hibernation or making space travel more cost-effective?

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, Personal & Social

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you prefer to hibernate on your space journey? Why or why not? Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No one-word answers.

Extra Reading in space