• Question: Is the idea of the stasis chamber from Red Dwarf possible?

    Asked by george13151 on 29 Apr 2020.
    • Photo: Kim Liu

      Kim Liu answered on 29 Apr 2020: last edited 29 Apr 2020 10:06 am

      From a quick search, the stasis chamber seems to be some way of stopping time for the contents of the pod (I’ve never watched Red Dwarf!). I suspect the answer is almost certainly not, because physics doesn’t allow you reach limits without infinite energy, which is impossible (physics does not like infinity!). Nonetheless, it’s fun to have a guess – if it is at all possible, I suspect it’d be something to do with travelling as close as possible to the speed of light (Einstein’s special relativity would then suggest you travelled slowly in time relative to an observer), or using a wormhole to jump into another universe with a different dimension of time.

    • Photo: Andrew Beale

      Andrew Beale answered on 29 Apr 2020:

      I would say probably not, but we could learn a lot from the tardigrade – an extremely small animal that is also called a water bear. The tardigrade can go into a kind of stasis called cryptobiosis. All that means is that they can pause all their bodily functions for a very long time. By doing this they can survive extreme hot, extreme cold, or getting zapped by radiation that would kill a person. They do this by reducing the amount of water in their bodies and cells. Inside their cells they replace the water with types of protein that form gels of jellies which protects all the delicate parts of the cell. When they want to come out of stasis they just move the water back into their cells and they are perfectly normal again!

      So, probably the key for us would be to find a way of removing the water from our bodies while still protecting our cells. This won’t be easy – the tardigrade has evolved for millions of years to be able to do stasis – but it might be possible in a different way. Cooling a body very slowly is one way to reach a kind of stasis, and doctors use that method to in hospitals to improve the recovery from certain surgeries. Cooling won’t reach Red Dwarf lengths of stasis, but understanding how it works and combining that with understanding how the tardigrade does stasis might lead us to interesting answers…

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 30 Apr 2020: last edited 30 Apr 2020 1:55 am

      I miss Red Dwarf!
      So I think the closest scientists have got to anything like a stasis chamber is a collaboration between NASA and Spaceworks, but there’s a long way to go, and many trials are required in other animal species before this can be tested in humans:

      We can learn a lot from hibernators, but it is really important to understand that hibernation is not the same as ‘sleep’, nor it is just a case of cooling down the body. Species that hibernate have differences in their anatomy, physiology (the way cells and organs work), and behaviour that enable them to go in and out of hibernation without damaging their organs and tissues. There are even differences at the molecular level. There is no evidence currently that humans would be capable of true hibernation. Sleep is essential for life, and there is some evidence that animals actually become ‘sleep-deprived’ during hibernation – some scientists believe that this is the reason why some hibernators cycle in and out of ‘torpor’ repeatedly during their hibernation – so that they can get some proper sleep! There are several species of animal that can hibernate, but the depth and duration of this hibernation state varies greatly between them, particularly species of very different sizes (e.g. ground squirrel versus bear). Cooling is sometimes used in the clinic, but currently there are only are two clinical situations (that I am aware of), for which there is strong enough evidence to recommend the use of clinical cooling in humans:
      (1) for newborn babies that have been starved of oxygen at birth (neonatal hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy or NHIE)
      (2) during heart surgery

      Generally for adult humans with other problems such as traumatic brain injury or stroke, the evidence in favour of cooling is weak, and some trials even suggest cooling may do more harm than good. There are many reasons why cooling an adult is more challenging than cooling a baby – can you think of any?

      There are examples of adult humans surviving ‘suspended animation’ in the wilderness and making a ‘full recovery’. Generally these are people that have been trapped in extremely cold conditions (e.g. under ice) – I think the lowest recorded temperature of a human that recovered was something like 13.7 degrees celsius. But, many more people have died of hypothermia (getting too cold) than have recovered from such extreme conditions. Cooling adult patients in the clinic is extremely challenging and not without risk – one of the riskiest parts is the rewarming phase which has to be done extremely slowly with a lot of intensive care monitoring to manage any side effects.

      So, in answer to your question, I believe anything is possible (including a stasis chamber), but if the NASA/Spaceworks trials work, it would probably mean stasis periods of days rather than weeks or years to start with. Things we need to understand much better before testing this in humans:
      (1) What sleep is, why we need it, how much, and how often
      (2) How does the brain cope with changes in temperature
      (3) What long-term health consequences result from prolonged hypothermic states
      (4) What mechanisms can we adapt from other species to make us better able to survive ‘stasis’