Human Hibernation Could Be the Key to Future Space Travel

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A new report by the European Space Agency reveals that we are closer to human hibernated space travel than most might think. In fact, the ESA predicts that the suspended transport mode, typically associated with sci-fi flicks like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Alien,” and “Passengers,” could actually be possible in 20 years.

  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has found that hibernated space travel could be viable over the course of a 5-year trip to Mars.
  • In-vehicle spacecraft human hibernation would be achieved by administering a drug known as “torpor,” a term used for the hibernating state.
  • Astronauts would hibernate in small individual pods, which would also serve as cabins when the crew is awake.

The reality of traveling safely in space in some deep, suspended coma-like state until you reach a final destination might be right around the corner.

Well, that’s if the calculations by the European Space Agency (ESA) are correct.

According to a recent report by the Europe-based space organization, we are only about two decades from the point where human hibernated space travel could become a real mode of transportation.

The ESA’s findings stem from a more comprehensive study aimed at exploring and developing new technology to enhance the capabilities of space travel for professional astronauts. The ESA and its SciSpacE Team have been using an existing mission to send six humans to Mars and back, to study the viability of human hibernation in space, to help enhance space travel in areas like weight reduction.

The ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) has been exploring the logistics of hibernated human space travel. (Photo: ESA)

The research, now being headed by the ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), has been focusing on the logistics needed to bring the idea to reality, like protection against radiation and power consumption.

“We looked at how an astronaut team could be best put into hibernation, what to do in case of emergencies, how to handle human safety and even what impact hibernation would have on the psychology of the team,” says Robin Biesbroek, of the ESA’s CDF team, in the ESA press release. Finally, we created an initial sketch of the habitat architecture and created a roadmap to achieve a validated approach to hibernate humans to Mars within 20 years.”

Based on the ESA’s report, the six astronauts could be transported to Mars in small individual pods that would double as cabins when the crew was awake. A drug would be administered to induce what’s known as “torpor,” a tern used for the hibernating state.

A cross-section through the hibernation module shows the individual quarters that would double as hibernation pods during the cruise phase. (Image: ESA)

The soft-shell pods would be darkened, with the temperature significantly reduced in the compartments to keep the astronauts cool during their projected 180-day Earth-to-Mars cruise.

The hibernating cruise phase would end with a 21-day recuperation period, according to ESA research. However, based on the agency’s experience with animal hibernation, the ESA believes that the crew would not experience any bone or muscle wastage during hibernation.

Of course, the ESA still has a lot of research that needs to be done before any concrete plans are actually put in place to send astronauts on hibernated space trips. “We aim to build on this in future, by researching the brain pathways that are activated or blocked during initiation of hibernation, starting with animals and proceeding to people,” explains ESA’s SciSpacE Team Leader Jennifer Ngo-Anh, in the press release.

In short, we’re a long way from the point where the average person will be able to book a hibernated space trip in a pod that’ll be opened ten years later on Mars, with all their physical elements still intact.


For decades, the idea of hibernated human space travel has been limited to Syfy films like Alien and Passengers. The research being done by the European Space Agency (ESA) continues to shed new light on the real viability of the process, but it also highlights the advancements being made in transportation, in ways never imagined.

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