A few weeks ago during a discussion seminar we were talking about technology in the modern era that has prolonged life. Of the many technologies talked about, like respirators, artificial hearts, and stem-cell research, cryogenics came up. Along with the very cool/science fiction notion of cryogenics, there is a very real possibility of using this technology for space travel. However there is always an important question that comes up when discussing cryogenics. Is the individual truly alive? And, how does cryogenics change the concept of death in the modern era?
The concept behind cryogenics in space travel is what you see in science fiction movies. The idea is to provide humans an alternative to traveling millions of light years without the threat of aging or dying. Placing humans in a frozen state can accomplish this. This field is also very attractive in disease research because humans can be frozen in the hope to be reawaken in a time where that disease may be cured. Cryogenics is also an alternative to customary death rituals. Many individuals, instead of being buried or cremated, prefer to be in a constant frozen state.
Believe it or not, cryogenics is currently being used aboard modern space ships and space stations, but not in the way you see in movies. The cryogenics technology requires the use of H2 and O2 molecules to provide a freezing mechanism. This is very useful for rocket thrusters, engines, and to preserve food for long distance space travel. The same application can be used for humans too. But the problem lies in how to restore humans back to active status after arriving at a certain destination, or even if the freezing can be reversed and the humans are able to recuperate from such a long stretch of time in a frozen state.
Cryogenic technology is a viable option for long distance space traveling by allowing humans to be in a frozen state in which they cannot age or die. However cryogenics pushes the envelope of the modern concept of death and dying. This technology is already being used to freeze human remains for the purposes of medical research. Now it can be used to cheat death, in a sense, which will alter how we see death and dying in the future to come.
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