Time to start planning your family space trip?

By Melanie Lieberman
January 24, 2017
© 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For travelers who want something really off-the-beaten path, space tourism could be just the ticket. After all, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has plans to put humans on Mars by 2025—and Virgin Galactic is already selling tickets (at $250,00 a pop) for its VSS Unity spaceship.

But for serious interstellar travel—the kind you’ve seen in movies—something akin to human hibernation is necessary for mitigating health risks and reducing food and life support systems. And scientists are closer than ever to making sci-fi sleep pods and cryo-chambers a reality. And we can thank a man named Mitsutaka Uchikoshi for that.

According to Quartz, Uchikoshi broke his pelvis and slipped out of consciousness when he fell down a mountain in 2006.  It took 24 days for a climber to find him, miraculously alive, despite having had no food or water. His body temperature hovered around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and he’d endured significant blood loss and organ failures. But he was alive, and made a full recovery.

His hibernation-like state has informed efforts to further develop therapeutic hypothermia treatments (which are already common in hospitals) for long-term space travel.

Unlike the personal sleep pods depicted by Hollywood in flicks like “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and, more recently, “Passengers”), the real-thing will likely be an open, shared chamber.

“There would be some robotic arms and monitoring systems,” John A. Bradford, the president of space exploration technologies company Spaceworks, told Quartz. "They’d have small transnasal tubes for cooling and some warming systems as well, to bring them back from stasis.”

Instead of everyone being put into a deep, decades-long sleep, Bradford and his team at Spaceworks envision crew members taking shorter, repeat cycles. This would allow at least one crew member to stay awake and manage the ship’s systems (and be conscious to deal with any and all aileen attacks or rogue asteroids). 

As for those aforementioned health risks? Bradford suggests using “neuromuscular electrical stimulation” to prevent muscular atrophy (a technique already being tried with comatose patients). And the therapeutic hypothermia would help reduce the intracranial pressure caused by low-gravity.

Spaceworks' stasis chambers aren't here just yet, but animal testing could begin as early as 2018 (that’s next year, folks). A battery of human tests and space station experiments would probably follow. With time, this hypothermia-like state could allow space travelers to sleep for many months. And you might finally be able to cross intergalactic exploration off your bucket list.