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Published 21:30 IST, October 10th 2022

Decades-old clip from NASA's Space Shuttle era shows astronauts napping in weird postures

A video surfaced on Twitter showing astronauts from NASA's Space Shuttle program sleeping in unusual postures, which is not so unusual aboard the ISS.

Reported by: Harsh Vardhan
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Image: Twitter/@Rainmaker1973 | Image: self
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Since life in outer space is completely different, it is no brainer that taking a nap outer there would be equally different. Unlike Earth, there is no gravity in space exerting its influence on astronauts which allows them to sleep whichever way they want and in any orientation– upside down, sideways or while standing up. However, sleeping in space does have its downsides as astronauts, if untethered during their nap, could float around and bump into equipment sustaining serious injuries. 

Recently, a new clip from NASA’s Space Shuttle era has surfaced which shows a team of astronauts napping in their sleeping bags. What’s most noticeable is their posture which due to microgravity has no effect on their sleep. In the video, one astronaut can be seen keeping his hand together whereas others have their arms free floating as if frozen in time. 

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NASA says that astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS) get eight hours of sleep in space every day before they can resume their everyday experiments in the orbiting laboratory. Good sleep is also considered important to keep the astronauts healthy as it helps make up for other detrimental effects lack of gravity has on the human body. While the ISS astronauts are scheduled for eight hours of sleep, scientists are researching if they could artificially induce hibernation for relatively longer periods of time for survival in long-term deep space missions. 

Sleeping our way to the stars

The idea of artificial hibernation during long-term missions is not a new idea as a 2004 study published in the journal Nature revealed that scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) believe it to be an effective way of preserving the human body. ESA says that hibernation could help astronauts to cope with the psychological demands of decades-long return journeys to planets like Saturn. Experts also say that if astronauts are unconscious for long, there would be less energy expenditure and thus less food consumption which would allow them to travel light. 

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One example of deep sleep in space is from the movie 'Interstellar' where the travellers would immerse themselves in a water-filled 'Hypersleep Pod' so as to prevent ageing and refrain from consuming limited supplies.

(Still from the movie Interstellar)

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Notably, this concept is currently theoretical as scientists have not decoded how to induce sleep that could last for weeks if not months and slow down the ageing process.

However, there are some challenges that could stop making this theory a reality. According to a study published by researchers from Chile in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, the size of humans is a major hurdle. Hibernation is the method that is used by animals when their body temperature drops and metabolism, as well as heart rate, significantly drops conserving 98% of their energy throughout their inactive period.

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For humans, however, scientists say that we would need 6.3 grams of fat each day to hibernate, meaning we might need a few hundred kilos of fat or keep consuming food every day anyway. "Humans are simply too large, so the benefits of hibernation are little as in bears if we think just on energy savings," Roberto Nespolo, the lead author of the study said per Interesting Engineering.

21:30 IST, October 10th 2022