The idea of suspended animation for interstellar human spaceflight has often been proposed as a promising far-term solution. Though full cryo-preservation remains a long way off, NASA recently funded a technology from SpaceWorks Engineering, a division of SpaceWorks Enterprises Inc, that shows promise in inducing deep sleep states (also known as torpor) with significantly reduced metabolic rates for humans over extended periods of time.

SpaceWorks Engineering received the investment under Phase II of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. These investments can be worth as much as $500,000 for a two-year study, and allow proposers to further develop concepts funded by NASA for Phase I studies that successfully demonstrated initial feasibility and benefit. “The NIAC program is one of the ways NASA engages the US scientific and engineering communities, including agency civil servants, by challenging them to come up with some of the most visionary aerospace concepts,” says Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, in a release. “This year’s Phase II fellows have clearly met this challenge.”

SpaceWorks proposes the design of a torpor-inducing Mars transfer habitat and an architectural-level assessment to fully characterize the impact to Mars exploration. According to a description on NASA’s website, “The habitat is envisioned as a very small, pressurized module that is docked around a central node/airlock permitting direct access to the Mars ascent/descent vehicle and Earth entry capsule by the crew. We believe the crew habitat mass can be reduced to only 5-7 mt (for a crew of 4-6), compared to 20-50 mt currently. The total habitat module volume would be on the order of 20 m3, compared to 200 m3 for most current designs.”

Rendering courtesy SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI). Reprinted with permission.