Prolonged human presence in space has been studied extensively only in Earth orbiting space stations. Manned missions beyond Earth’s orbit, require addressing further challenges:
- Absence of safe abort and return options will add physiological stress.
- Abscence of Earth magnetosphere will expose humans to constant ionizing radiations.
- Limited ressources require novel closed-cycle life support systems.
- large distances exclude effective tele-operation from Earth
- Robotic extravehicular activities require the development of hardware for semi-autonomous exploratoration.
These few examples suggest that if the endeavour of interplanetary manned spaceflight has to become a realistic future possibility, the technological support to astronauts will need to be substantially developed .
ESA topical team on hibernation
The Future Technology Advisory Panel (FTAP) has been created in order to identify ‘enabling’ technologies. These technologies shall enable the potential for scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in future science missions for ESA. The FTAP prepares recommendations to ESA’s Directorate of Technical and Quality Management regarding enabling technologies for future science projects and on potential actions to implement with respect to these technologies. Within its mandate the FTAP has identified the controlled use of torpor & hibernation as a game-changing technology for human spaceflight. It is conceivable that lowering the metabolic rate of astronauts would not only lead to reduced consumption of air, water and food supplies, but it might also lead to a lower susceptibility to radiation damages . However, in order to prepare a recommendation the FTAP needed to substantiate this potential via in-depths discussions with the relevant scientific community. Therefore a topical team has been created, assembling experts on the topic.
The objectives of Topical Team for Topor & Hibernation are:
- To establish the state-of-the-art on human topor & hibernation research.
- To assess the research prospectives in terrestrial areas (medicine, pharmacology).
- To determine a probability based on current knowledge of controlled use of human topor & hibernation being applicable to human spaceflight in a foreseeable future and rough estimates on the timeline, potential showstoppers, and gains.
- To report its findings back to ESA and the FTAP.
This project has been featured in the Washington Post.
We have edited a chapter on state of the art understanding of hibernation: Hibernation and Torpor, Prospects for Human spaceflight
- Rossini L., Seidl T., Izzo D. and Summerer L., Beyond astronaut’s capabilities: a critical review. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Paper IAC-07-A5.2.04.
- Heldmaier G., Ortmann S., and Elvert R., “Natural hypometabolism during hibernation and daily torpor in mammals.” Respiratory physiology & neurobiology 141.3 (2004): 317-329.