ESA is preparing hibernation modules for its bear-inspired AI-controlled astronauts

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Humanity has set foot on the Moon. But truly tearing ourselves away from our earthly roots is always a challenge. And hibernation could help us get there. If we manage to copy the bear’s strategies, say researchers today.

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A few days ago, we discovered — see the article below — how astronauts could take advantage of tricks developed by squirrels to better withstand long stays in space. Today theEuropean Space Agency (THAT) tells us that she envisions hibernation as a technique that could revolutionize spaceflight.

When they hibernate, animals reduce their heart rate, breathing and other vital functions. They put their metabolism in sleep. An effective way to saveenergy. And ESA researchers engaged in the human space exploration program believe that reducing the metabolic activity of a crew on this scheme on the way to planet Mars even at 25% of its normal activity, would considerably reduce the needs for water and food as well as the needs for living space.

Researchers even suggest that this form of hibernation would help limit boredom, feelings of loneliness, stress and thus the aggressiveness levels associated with confinement in a spacecraft. Questions that necessarily arise when it comes to embarking a crew for a journey of several years, far from Earth and towards a hostile planet.

The bear model

In expert opinion, the tardigrades, frogs or reptiles are champions of hibernation. But the bear may well represent the best model if it comes to adapting the technique to humans. Because its body mass is closer to ours than that of the small animals mentioned above. And that he has a habit of only bringing down his body temperature only a few degrees. A habit considered safer for us.

So, like bears do, the researchers would encourage astronauts to store fat before going into hibernation. And, unlike what can happen when a human stays six months in bed, scientists believe that hibernation preventsmuscle atrophy and bone and protects against tissue damage. Thus the bears only take 20 days to recover their abilities after six months of fasting and immobilization.

Artificial intelligence to keep an eye on the grain

ESA scientists are already imagining designing sorts of soft-shell nacelles in which astronauts could take their places to gently experience this phase of hibernation which would take them to Mars. In a soothing environment, with lights filtered, low temperature — less than 10°C — and high humidity. Leaving the astronauts all the same completely free of their movements. Around these capsules, the researchers plan to place a kind of water shield, for the protect from radiation.

A artificial intelligence will be responsible for managing routine operations, but also the anomalies and emergencies. It will monitor the energy consumption as well as the constants of the astronauts. In short, she will ensure that the crew arrives safe and sound at their destination.

This discovery opens the way to hibernation for astronauts

The striped ground squirrel. This little squirrel can do what the best trained astronauts are unable to do. He knows how to maintain his muscle mass for several months. So even if he ceased all activity. Including that of food. Researchers have just understood how he achieves this feat.

Article of Nathalie Mayer released on 01/31/2022

The striped ground squirrel. He’s a cute little squirrel. He lives in North America. And for him, hibernation is sacred. From the beginning of the autonomous, he falls asleep. Only to wake up at the end of spring. He thus spends nearly half the year without eating or drinking. Even if he manages to slow down his metabolism by up to 99%, he still loses in the adventure, half of his weight.

Researchers have long wondered how, under these conditions, the striped ground squirrel manages to maintain its musculature. In order to be fully on the attack as soon as the sound comes out hibernation. The curiosity of the scientist. But also with the idea of ​​offering new solutions to people suffering from muscular disorders. Or to astronauts required to make extended stays in space.

Because it is known, an animal – including a human – who does not exercise sees its muscles – but also its bones – atrophy and lose mass and function. Because the body then breaks down the proteins muscles into an ammonium which is then concentrated into urea. A urea that ends up being excreted as urine.

Animals that ingest no protein during hibernation must find another way to provide their muscles with what they need to support their functions. And in the particular case of striped ground squirrels, waking up ready for the mating season and the effort it requires. It is precisely one of these means that an international team of researchers has just detailed.

Beyond space, a new therapeutic avenue

They injected urea enriched withisotopes from carbone (13C) andazote (15N) traceable in the blood of striped ground squirrels during the summer and at the beginning and end of their hibernation. Why urea? Because researchers already knew that nitrogen – an essential element for amino acids and protein – can be derived from urea by some microbes intestinal. A process known since the 1980s as urea nitrogen recovery. The researchers therefore wanted to know if the part of this nitrogen that is not directly used by microbes can then be used by squirrels.

The researchers actually found some of their traced nitrogen in the foie and in the muscles of squirrels. Except in those whose microbiote intestinal had been artificially depleted. Enough to prove that the process of recovery of urea nitrogen is indeed the fact of the intestinal microbes and not of the squirrels themselves. With some molecules marked which pass first from the blood to the intestine where the urea is broken down by the microbiota and then from the metabolites to the animal before ending up in muscle protein. And the longer the hibernation lasted, the more the researchers noted the presence, in the intestine of the squirrels, of microbes capable of releasing nitrogen from urea.

On the strength of these results, the researchers are already planning to apply them to future astronauts on board for space missions in the long run. To save them from damaging muscle loss – and other dangers of spaceflight like ionizing radiation – they could be put into a state of hibernation. What also save food, water andoxygen and produce less waste.

This work could also open up new therapeutic avenues for those suffering from age-related sarcopenia or protein malnutrition. Because researchers believe since the 1990s that the mechanisms of recovery of nitrogen in urea are functional in men. A new situation in which an intervention targeted on the microbiota could make it possible to get out of some impasses. Although more work will be needed to translate the natural mechanism operated by striped ground squirrels into therapy effective and safe for humans.

Interested in what you just read?

Humanity has set foot on the Moon. But truly tearing ourselves away from our earthly roots is always a challenge. And hibernation could help us get there. If we manage to copy the bear’s strategies, say researchers today. You will also be interested [EN VIDÉO] Thomas Pesquet’s advice for becoming an astronaut Thomas Pesquet: “I…

Humanity has set foot on the Moon. But truly tearing ourselves away from our earthly roots is always a challenge. And hibernation could help us get there. If we manage to copy the bear’s strategies, say researchers today. You will also be interested [EN VIDÉO] Thomas Pesquet’s advice for becoming an astronaut Thomas Pesquet: “I…

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