Even with so many future space research missions slated for takeoff this half-decade, a new line of space suits to design, and the Artemis program to return humans to the moon, NASA found money in its budget to give a research grant to a woman up in Alaska, who spends her time studying Arctic ground squirrels.
The reason can be drawn from dozens of science-fiction space-faring movies and TV shows over the years, when without fail, long-distance travel involves being placed in some kind of deep sleep, usually in a pod or something.
Among mammals, this behavior is a breeze and doesn’t require any grant from NASA. It’s called hibernation, and animals like bears and ground squirrels do it every year.
This odd state of sleep-not-sleep is believed to be a potential help for future space missions, from the extreme of medically induced hibernation for long-term space missions, to protecting astronauts from cabin fever, ionizing radiation, and much more. It could also prove effective in preventing muscle and bone loss in zero gravity.
A study from last year showed that a six-month tour in space contributed to the equivalent of two decades of age-related bone loss, and weight-bearing exercises—squats in space—are pretty much essential.