Space Hibernation for Real


If you saw the movie, Two thousand one, a space odyssey, you'd recognize these famous lines: "Open the pod bay door HAL" and "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that". Yep, the AI, Hal, goes rogue and kills three astronauts in hibernation on the way to Saturn. We hope rogue AIs remain purely sci-fi, but hibernating astronauts are looking pretty real.

Hibernation experiments involve using directed ultrasound on animal brains. They target a mouse's hypothalamus which is responsible for sleep and the regulation of body temperature. The animal then enters a hibernation-like state.

The soundwaves are able to decrease body temperature by six point two five degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the animal's heart rate and oxygen consumption. We see this naturally happening in bears when they hibernate.

When the ultrasound was turned off, the mice's brains quickly returned to a normal state. A variety of animals such as insects, amphibians, fish, and mammals can "naturally" enter hibernation. We don't understand all the mechanisms involved. They're all able to significantly reduce their metabolic state so that their heart rate drops to a few beats a minute and breathe as little as once every ten minutes or so.

The ultrasound experiments mimic these natural changes, but we don't know how close it really is. Soon, human clinical trials may start. Hibernation makes long-duration space travel possible and gives doctors more time to treat critically ill patients.

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