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Synthetic torpor: A method for safely and practically transporting experimental animals aboard spaceflight missions to deep space


Background: NASA and other space programs are developing programs to send humans to deep space (e.g. the moon, Mars). To understand how the hazards of deep space impact physiological systems, it is important to incorporate animal research into these missions. However, housing animals requires a significant portion of limited spacecraft mass, volume and power capacities.

What we did: We proposed the use of metabolic control technologies to reversibly depress the metabolic rates of experimental animals while in transit aboard spacecraft. We estimated the savings this could bring to spacecraft capacities and discussed the space-specific health benefits that torpor could confer to the animals (atrophy resistance, radiation resistance). We also explored current metabolic control technologies and delved into some of the major questions and obstacles that will likely appear should this idea be pursued.

What this means: Torpor-inducing technologies could increase the likelihood of animal research aboard spaceflight missions to deep space, which would indisputably enhance our understanding of deep space’s effects on human physiology. Furthermore, these systems would function as test beds for systems that may eventually hold human crewmembers in similar metabolic states aboard long-duration missions.