Friday, January 13, 2017

Surviving Deep Space Travel

“Ready to turn into a popsicle, Commander?” from Mission to New Earth.

Have you ever wondered how humans could travel across vast reaches of space? Last year, I wrote a blog post on cryosleep (or cryogenic sleep) for C.J. Burright’s blog. This week, I saw the movie Passengers about travelers into deep space and discovered another option for travelers: hibernation. So I've rewritten that blog for today. 

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

To travel into deep space, first we’d have to build spaceships that could go that far. Those ships would need fuel. The more fuel, the farther the ship can go. If the ship was empty, it could go even farther. A computer can perform all the necessary functions. In fact, that’s what the Kepler, Cassini, and Hubbell spacecraft do.

But what if we want to send people out past our star (the sun) and past many stars until they get to a planet in the Goldilocks zone? In my post on Veronica Scott’s blog, I wrote about planets that aren’t too hot, not too cold, where the environment is just right for humans.

The heavier the cargo, the more fuel is used. Humans need essentials like air, food, and water. To preserve their bones, gravity is needed, too. To maintain gravity and haul enough food, water, and appropriate air for several years would take a lot of fuel. They also need room to move around, places to eat, sleep, work, relax during downtime. That means the ship would have to be big, and the bigger the ship, the more fuel it would use. The problem remains. How do we get humans into deep space?

Scientists have been working on that for years. Science fiction movies and books already have it worked out. Just put the astronauts into hibernation or cryosleep. There is a difference between the two procedures. In hibernation, the person’s body wouldn’t be frozen. Instead, the body temperature would be lowered to about 9°F.

In movies like Avatar, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, astronauts are put into suspended animation (sometimes called stasis or torpor) so they can endure long space travels. Not every story or movie has warp or hyperdrive to get from Point A to Point B, thereby reducing travel time. I doubt if scientists can figure out how to warp space or develop a faster-than-lightspeed engine in our lifetime. Not mine, anyway.

When astronauts are put into cryosleep, as mine are in Mission to New Earth, food and water aren’t needed since a sleeper has no need for them plus they don’t breathe. The result is less fuel consumption, which then means the spaceship can go farther than if the astronauts were awake.

There’s another benefit of cryosleep. Relief from boredom. Can you imagine looking at empty space for years? In my novella, Mission to New Earth, the trip from Titan (Saturn’s moon and launch platform) to Serenity (a planet in the Goldilocks zone) takes three years. With nothing to do and nothing to observe, the astronauts would need to keep busy. Workouts take energy—not just from the astronaut but from the ship. Gravity, air, food, and water. All demands on fuel consumption.

As a sci-fi writer, I’m not concerned with the mechanics of cryosleep or hibernation. I compare it to an automobile. I don’t know (don’t need to know) how my car works. I just need to know that when I put the key in the ignition, that car will take me where I want to go.

From what I’d read, seen in movies, and researched, I gathered enough info to make the scene of my astronauts going into cryosleep believable. At least, I hope so. Or that the reader can suspend disbelief. I was more concerned with the emotions experienced by the astronauts.

Sara Grenard, the commander of the mission and the story’s narrator, has a vivid imagination. While preparing for launch, before being put into cryosleep, Sara experiences many emotions. Fear, mainly. What if there’s a problem with the freezing chamber? What if the computer (an AI like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey) decides to eliminate the humans? What if there’s a malfunction and the computer has to decide whose vitals can be turned off and who will live? What if the cryosleep chamber is vandalized?

But Sara’s already decided being the first pioneer on a new planet is worth the risk of cryosleep. For my astronauts, there is no other way. The elation over going first outweighs the fear. So she and the other five astronauts willingly enter their cryotubes and are put into hibernation for the long trip. She is certain she and the others will wake up—just like Jake in Avatar.

One thing Sara didn’t consider was what would happen if she/they woke up too soon, as in Passengers. While my characters’ journey is only three years total, the travelers in Passengers, Jim and Aurora, it’s devastating to wake up with 90 years to go.

In real life is cryosleep or hibernation possible? As I wrote above, scientists are not only working on cryosleep for space travel, they see practical applications in the medical realm. We’ve already heard or read in the news about people who’ve plunged into icy cold bodies of water, their bodily functions and temperature have slowed down, and they’ve survived with almost no ill effects. Medically-induced hibernation is being used in critical patient care, for instance in cases of traumatic brain and spine injuries.

Whether for medical treatment or space travel, lowering the body temperature can be beneficial. Scientists will find a way to send travelers into deep space.

Mission to New Earth: a novella


Would you go on a one-way trip to explore a new planet? Would you do it to save humankind?

Earth’s overpopulation and dwindling resources force the United Earth Space Agency to expedite exploration of new planets for a possible new home. When new crises ensue—a giant tsunami and the threat of nuclear winter—the timeline changes. Eight years of training crammed into four. Sara Grenard and her team prepare for launch, but are they ready for the one-way trip? Will the Goldilocks planet prove just right for Earth’s inhabitants? Before time runs out.


We had such hopes for our mission. Scared and hopeful. What a combination. Three years in cryosleep. The scary part.
I forced myself not to think about all that could go wrong. So many people were depending on us. If all went well—that is, if we survived cryosleep—one of the teams would find a planet that could be the answer to Earth’s problems. Or maybe all three would. We could only hope.
I was excited and nervous. In some respects, I wished it was launch day. Just to get it over with. Put me in cryosleep, where I can’t think and won’t dream. At least, that’s what the scientists told us. I dreamed all the time. Happy dreams about Marsh, sometimes about my parents and the wonderful life they had together.
Sometimes my dreams were frightening. Choking to death on the viscous substance that replaced the air in our lungs—my most frequent nightmare. Or our shuttle craft plummeting to the surface and crashing. I often woke up shaking, terrified, until Marsh put his strong arm around my waist and pulled me tight against him.

About the Author:

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and the Alex O’Hara PI mystery series. She is also a contributor to two anthologies: Portals, Volume 2 and How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in West Michigan. They have two children and three grandchildren.
For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website:

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Maureen said...

Fascinating post! It would be amazing to see other worlds or many years into the future. I used to think I'd like to go into space and then I remembered my fear of heights ;)

Diane Burton said...

LOL, Maureen. It reminds me of the Star Trek movie First Contact when Worf and the Captain walk on the outside of the ship and it makes Worf sick to his stomach. I'm not crazy about heights, either. Yet when I fly, I can look down thru the window and it doesn't bother me.

CJ Burright said...

Great post, Diane! I'd definitely share all of Sara's concerns...and they'd probably be enough to deter me from taking that flight into space. Yeah, I'll wait until scientists figure things out completely. :)

Diane Burton said...

I'm not so sure I'd want to be in hibernation or cryosleep. In Passengers, when Jim wakes up and realizes he's alone, I felt his despair. I couldn't imagine that.

Alicia Dean said...

Wow, interesting post. I felt you definitely made the cryosleep aspects of your story believable. You did an excellent job with mixing the emotions and the science. I can't imagine going into space. It's never been anything I was interested in, but I'm glad someone has the urge. :)

Kara O'Neal said...

Wow! I'm floored by your imagination. It's amazing. Loved the post! Good luck to you!

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

I'm not sure I could be brave enough to be frozen or hiberate, either one. New frontiers in space requires leaving loved ones at home aging while you remain the same age. That would be tough. Interesting post!

Abigail Owen said...

I didn't realize there were so many different variations and options on the sleeping while traveling. That was really cool to read about!

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

This kind of stuff just plain freaks me out...I'll stay right here on earth thank you very much LOL!
Good luck and God's blessings

Diane Burton said...

Alicia, thanks for letting me know that.

Kara, thanks so much.

Elizabeth, leaving one's family is one of the aspects I touch on in the story. I couldn't do it.

Abigail, thanks.

Pam, LOL. Me, too. But it's fun writing about those brave ones who do.

Francesca Quarto said...

Very interesting Diane! With my awful sleep habits this sounds rather appealing on some level. Actually, my ex-husband wanted to employ cryogenics and even interviewed a company that was pioneering the process at the time. I was all for it, but I guess he wasn't quite ready!

Nancy Gideon said...

Great post, Di! To get that much sleep . . . ahhh! I love your exploration of the very real fears one would have in the excerpt.