NASA Funds Interstellar Spaceflight And Human Hibernation Research

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded grants of half-a-million dollars each Wednesday to eight “high-risk, high-reward” space technologies, including an interstellar spacecraft laser drive and research to put humans into a hibernation-like stasis for lengthy missions.

Projects that received grants also include include a habitat configured to allow astronauts to sleep deeply during long missions, an aircraft that could stay aloft for months, a method to super-freeze to negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit without using any energy, inflatable habitat research and a method of using magnetic fields to slow a spacecraft down.

The grants are “one of the ways NASA engages the U.S. scientific and engineering communities, including agency civil servants, by challenging them to come up with some of the most visionary aerospace concepts,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The NASA-funded interstellar spacecraft laser drive could potentially replace rocketry as a way of getting to space and power extremely long range space missions. In the long term, rockets carry extremely limited fuel supplies and are thus simply incapable of acceleration for the extremely long periods required to travel between stars. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and other scientists announced a $100 million plan in April to create a small robotic probe capable of reaching Alpha Centauri, the star system closest to Earth, in just 20 years using a similar laser propulsion scheme.

Putting astronauts into a hibernation-like stasis for lengthy missions could greatly simplify extremely long missions. The research would go to creating an inflatable habitat capable of “cycling the crew through inactive, non-cryonic torpor sleep states for the duration of the inspace mission segments.” NASA has already begun experimenting with several of the technologies, attaching the first inflatable habitat to the International Space Station (ISS) in April. Inflatable habitats of this type are a huge deal for space travel because they take up less room on a rocket, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. The ISS inflatable habitat cost NASA $17.8 million to produce.

A mission to Mars using traditional rocket technology would take six to nine months depending on the time of year. Keeping astronauts healthy for such long stretches in deep space would require an enormous spacecraft with a great deal of food, water and other consumables, as well as gigantic living spaces to mitigate the adverse health effects of living in space. It would be far cheaper and safer to simply have the astronauts hibernate during long range missions, opening vast portions of the solar system and beyond up to human exploration.

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