Check out the full story on Forbes: The Movie Passengers Provides A Glimpse At Future Of Space Travel.
The movie Passengers opens up in theaters this week. The premise revolves around an interstellar mission launched from Earth. The crew is put into hibernation for the 120-year journey, but two crew members (played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) wake up 90 years early and struggle to find out why and save the mission. The story may seem like far-fetched science fiction, but there are real scientists at work right now on how to put humans into stasis for long-range space travel.
I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. John Bradford, president of SpaceWorks. Spaceworks is a private company funded by NASA to research hibernation for deep space travel. The Atlanta-based engineering firm is conducting research in how other animals hibernate and experimenting with ways to induce hibernation in humans for long-term space travel.
Dr. Bradford told me that what technology in the movie Passengers is somewhere between science fiction and reality. The foundation exists through a technology called therapeutic hypothermia. Therapeutic hypothermia exists and is used in the medical field for things like traumatic brain injuries.
Therapeutic hypothermia brings the core body temperature down by about 10 degrees. According to Dr. Bradford, that 10 degree difference in temperature results in a 50 percent drop in metabolism—and that dramatic change in metabolism has a significant impact on the potential of long range space travel.
A Gizmodo article on the use of cryogenic sleep for deep space travel explains, “According to a NASA-funded study, keeping astronauts unconscious almost halves the haul of any given trip. When a crew is placed in an inactive state, many of the ship’s subsystems can be removed and the space and equipment needed for humans significantly cut down. The negative psychological and social aspects of prolonged space travel could be mitigated, too.”
However, therapeutic hypothermia is only used for as long as medically necessary. It generally only takes two to four days for the therapeutic hypothermia to achieve the desired benefits. The longest it’s ever been used successfully with a human is 14 days. Doctors are not in the business of pushing that envelope and there haven’t been any longer term experiments conducted on humans.
Much of what we see or read about in science fiction may seem like pure fantasy–but “science” is literally half of the term. In most cases, the fantastic technologies have at least some basis in fact and are ostensibly scientifically feasible. For example, there are scientists right now working on how to put humans into long-term metabolic stasis for deep space travel like the mission portrayed in the movie Passengers.