The race into deep space is something many researchers have been tinkered with for decades on-end. As it turns out, the key to surviving deep space travel may have been in front of our faces all along…in the form of sleeping squirrels. NASA recently awarded a grant to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks so that researchers would be able to study hibernating squirrels and their ability retain muscle and bone mass.
A team lead by Dr. Kelly Drew studied Arctic ground squirrels, which can hibernate anywhere from eight to nine months out of the year without freezing or losing muscle and bone density.
“This research could be used to help future missions, from the extreme of medically induced hibernation for long term space missions, protecting astronauts from cabin fever, ionizing radiation, and much more,” NASA says of the study. “It could also prove effective in preventing muscle and bone loss in zero gravity.”
Even should the study not prove fruitful for astronauts traveling past the Moon, NASA says data obtained by the study could help in other fields, such as pharmaceuticals that would be able to help regulate the body temperatures of those suffering from stroke and heart attack complications.
When will NASA send astronauts to Mars?
While no concrete plans have been unveiled yet, NASA officials revealed last spring they hope to get the first boots on Mars by the year 2040.
“The feedback we receive on the objectives we have identified will inform our exploration plans at the Moon and Mars for the next 20 years,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said at the time. “We’re looking within NASA and to external stakeholders to help us fine-tune these objectives and be as transparent as possible throughout our process. With this approach, we will find potential gaps in our architecture as well as areas where our goals align with those from industry and international partners for future collaboration.”
As other officials have previously revealed, the biggest hurdle to getting to Mars is the lack of a mid-way point that astronauts could use as an operating base of sorts. The Artemis program is actively working on getting astronauts back to the lunar service so some of those issues can be remedied.
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