Hibernation might be the key to Mars travel. The European Space Agency says putting astronauts into a state of suspended animation could make it easier to reach other planets, per the AP. The agency said Monday that its researchers examined how hibernation would affect the design of a crewed mission to Mars and concluded that it could help to significantly shrink the size of spacecraft. For example, they'd need to haul less food, notes a post at Futurism. While slowing down humans’ metabolic rate similarly to the way animals hibernate isn’t possible yet, research team head Jennifer Ngo-Anh says the idea “is actually not so crazy.” She noted that similar methods are already used to save trauma victims.
“If we were able to reduce an astronaut’s basic metabolic rate by 75%—similar to what we can observe in nature with large hibernating animals such as certain bears—we could end up with substantial mass and cost savings, making long-duration exploration missions more feasible,” says Ngo-Anh. Challenges include designing the spacecraft to operate largely autonomously while the crew—padded with extra body fat in advance of their trip—sleep through much of the 180-day cruise to Mars. The researchers estimate it would take the crew three weeks to recuperate upon arrival. (Read more Mars stories.)