Cryosleep and the Space Force

“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea.”

No, that’s not the opening line to this year’s sci-fi summer blockbuster. It’s a direct quote from the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

He said it back in March, while at a military event in California.

“We may even have a space force. We’ll have the Air Force and the Space Force.”

I’m sure most people that heard his speech thought it was another of his famous publicity stunts. But it turns out, he was serious about it.

At the end of last month, he confirmed it was all going ahead.

“We must have American dominance in space. Very importantly, I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” He said at a White House meeting of his National Space Council.

This goes to show how rapidly space-based business has been expanding. The developments of re-usable rockets and billionaire tech tycoons taking up the mantle has led to massive innovation.

As I wrote in June, Jeff Bezos now sees his space project, Blue Origin, as his “most important work”.

“In the not-too-distant future – I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years, it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space, because we’ll have so much energy,” he said at the Space Development Conference in May.

“We will have to leave this planet. We’re going to leave it, and it’s going to make this planet better.”

The way Bozos thinks we’ll achieve this is by first setting up moon bases. He believes the moon will become a centre for heavy industry and a launch pad for deep space missions.

Buzz Aldrin’s Mars Plan

The reason I’m bringing Bezos’ vision up again is because this week he was joined by Buzz Aldrin in advocating a moon settlement.

As Business Insider reports:

According to his Mars plan, humans would send a crewed mission to an asteroid in 2026, and then a first unmanned lander to Mars in 2034 to test out the trip for humans. At the same time, six brave souls would land on the Martian moon Phobos, a tiny object less than 17 miles wide that closely orbits the Martian surface.

Aldrin said a key part of the Mars plan, once the moon is open for business, would be having spacecraft continuously traveling to and from Mars — a kind of Martian taxi system for bringing people back and forth, which could even help pay for itself with space tourism.

Both Bezos and Aldrin see this moon base and Mars missions as being collaborative efforts.

“We need to be open, invite sharing, cooperation, invite assistance from other nations to get done what they want to do,” Aldrin said.

And Bezos has proposed a public-private partnership between Blue Origin and NASA.

However, even when there is a base on Mars and regular missions going, how will people deal with the six-month flight time?

NASA may have the answer.

NASA working on cryosleep chamber

In 2016, NASA awarded a company called SpaceWorks Enterprises a $500,000 grant to develop cryosleep chambers.

If you haven’t heard of cryosleep before, it’s the idea of freezing people so they can sleep, or hibernate for long periods of time.

In all the books and films, when in cryosleep people don’t age. They are basically completely frozen and so not subject to most biological deterioration. Like how you can keep meat in the freezer safely for months, but if you leave it out at room temperature for day it’ll go off.

In most cases freezing doesn’t actually kill bacteria – like cooking does – it just slows it down. Really, really slows it down. When it’s thawed out, it would still go off at room temperature.

So, the theory goes that if you could freeze people and then thaw them out, they could hibernate almost indefinitely.

But freezing is bad for people. Water expends when it freezes. And as we are made of mostly water, freezing us would rupture all out cells and kill us. So full-on freezing is probably off the table for now.

However, biological processes do slow down significantly as the temperature drops. So, in theory, you could sedate someone, and then drop their temperature enough to slow down their biological processes but not enough to kill them.

This would mean they would need less food, less space, less oxygen, less… everything. And because in space flight, space is at a premium, this almost-cryosleep could save billions and billions of dollars.

Imagine how much food a full crew would need for a six-month mission to Mars. Imagine how much space it would take up.

If they could be asleep for most of the journey, they would barely need to eat anything.

It could also alleviate the inevitable boredom and possible psychological damage such a long time in a confined space would lead to.

SpaceWorks Enterprises says its crypsleep pods could keep people asleep for two weeks and a time, and possibly longer.

“The technique may be perfected to extend the torpor duration to periods of months,” SpaceWorks project manager Jacob Vallo told Curiosity.

The crew would then wake up for a few days and then go back to sleep for a few weeks, repeating this cycle till they reached their destination.

SpaceWorks believes it could have these long-term cryosleep pods up and running in the 2030s. And as Quartz points out, this will be just in time for Elon Musk’s first manned Mars missions.

It’s an exciting idea, there is no doubt of that. But I still can’t find out if the cryosleepers will still age at a normal rate. You’d think that if all their body processes are slowed, their aging would be too, but by how much?

I don’t know how I’d feel about taking a one-year cryosleep if it meant I was still ageing by six months.

Still, this seems like the only viable option for long-distance space travel. Either that or faster than light travel.

We all know the dangers of faster than light travel…

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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