Excerpt from Above A Whisper (Nanowrimo 2016)
Cryogenic sleep is still pretty much in its infancy. I mean it’s safe, from the viewpoint of the higher ups. People show up alive, and after a brief rehabilitation, they are ready to work. The first few people to Mars went in the traditional way; awake for the whole journey. Six long months, whose only real contact was with the other crew members and nobody else for the entire trip. Plenty of freeze dried foods that get boring quickly.
A method like that is safe, but boring. Both for the missions control and for the passengers. It uses up too many resources, too; which have to occupy space on the ship. However, if the crew members don’t have to eat or drink, use the bathroom, and they only breath a very tiny bit of oxygen, you can have more people and less supplies for them. When you’re trying to get something off a planet like Earth, the lighter the better. I mean, our space launching technology hasn’t improved much since the the 20’s. The escape velocity of Earth isn’t getting any lower, either.
So, how do you get humans to stop having human needs? Freeze them. Of course, it isn’t that simple. It’s like hibernation, but even deeper. There are a few animal species in nature that can survive it alone. Some frog somewhere in Africa, If I remember right. You slow down your metabolism so much that you can survive on barely nothing.
Cryopreservation had been used in medical fields for a long time to keep organs ‘fresh,’ to keep them from breaking down over time. However, doing it to a whole live human being was illegal, at least in a very fuzzy sense. I mean, in most cases the person wouldn’t have survived it. It was only done to people, well, bodies, that were considered clinically dead. Back in those days, even the best practices would end up with a body horribly mutilated on the microscopic scale. Tiny ice crystals would wreak havoc on the cells and organs.
Even more, we didn’t understand how the brain reacts under such circumstances. The brain needs blood; oxygen to survive. If you come out brain damaged and can’t operate, you’re no good, especially on an alien planet.
Eventually they found a remedy to both of those problems; something that wouldn’t freeze and tear up your insides with razor sharp ice crystals, while still proving oxygen to the brain. Tiny-oxygen carrying nano-machines that would be pumped through your veins in a sort of dialysis. They were quite simple, actually. Oxygen freezes at a lower point than one’s body needs to be at for cryonics. It keeps the body just oxygenated enough to keep the brain healthy, as well. At least in theory, and lab rat tests of course.
At some point they wanted a real prolonged test. They needed one. With a human. If they couldn’t get a system working, they wouldn’t be able to get people to the red planet in an efficient matter. Someone had to volunteer for a procedure that wasn’t proven entirely safe. If I recall correctly, they left him in there for a month. Every day, they checked his heart rate, his brain function, the temperature of his blood, what was left of it. I can’t remember exactly how it went, but he woke up relatively fine.
I think that was a couple of years before I had even heard of it. However, I saw the news. It was a space race, just like in the late 20th century. Who could mass produce cryopods and ships fastest to get to the planet, and who could fabricate the necessary tools and machinery to allow them to not only live up there, but thrive. They wanted to make the planet livable.
I was in the navy working engine rooms at the time, when I saw news of the Mars Development Project. I was good, I guess. That’s what everyone told me. I was strong too. It’s no easy job. Engine blocks, drive shafts the size of tractor trailers, gears and bolts the size of my head or arm.
My higher ups definitely knew my name. I knew so, they came and asked me if I knew about the program. I feigned ignorance. I was intimidated by it. They told me that I was too good for what I was doing. An Engineer like myself could do good up there. I knew they were right, but I was scared. I went anyways.
The first test was them putting a blueprint in front of my face and asking me what was wrong with it. I immediately turned it over and designed it again from the bottom up. After that, it was a blur. I guess I passed their test.
I didn’t want to leave the Earth just yet, I felt. However, I remember talking to my mother on the phone, who insisted I go. She wasn’t in the best health, but she was in her right mind, as always. It’s almost as if she heard the excitement in my voice. So, into the training program I went.
The astronaut training was a breeze, and even the briefing for the freezing process made it seem painless. Then the time came. We were going to be put on the ship like human luggage, pre-frozen. Thinking about it, if something were to go wrong with the systems on the ship, there would be little the two active crewman would be able to do.
Brain monitors, heart monitors, a catheter, and last but not least, the dialysis machine. I think it was actually more like hemodiafiltration, but let’s not split hairs. It isn’t pleasant in the least. You can feel the cold flowing into your body. That’s just the nanomachines, though. Eventually you get sedated. However, just as you’re about to lose consciousness, it becomes cold. Very cold. Then, all of a sudden, you’re awake, millions of miles away.
Defrosting is excruciating. You can’t move a muscle. While the freezing process happens in a blink of an eye, coming out is a slow process. You up about half way through, after your heart starts beating at a normal rate. If you woke up sooner, you could literally become fractured into pieces, like that. When you can move, you’re completely stiff and weak, but otherwise you feel mentally invigorated, due to the abundance of oxygen in your brain.
Mars was… like a completely different world. I mean, it is. Your muscles may have atrophied slightly in the freezer, but you wouldn’t have noticed. The gravity is one third the strength of Earth. But then you realize that your inner ear is thrown off, your stomach just won’t settle, and you eventually get light headed from the awkward way the gravity effects your blood flow. You get used to it, especially with the help of the drugs they give us, but eventually there’s nothing you can do but just ignore it.