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Sleeper Starship

Space is big, really big. So big in fact that if Faster-Than-Light Travel is impossible it would take multiple human lifetimes to reach another star, and one way around this is you hibernate for most of the trip there. This is the Sleeper Starship.

A variation that is becoming popular is one where the passengers just upload their brains into the ship's computers and are downloaded into cloned bodies when they reach their destination. An older variant — a cross between a sleeper ship and a generation ship — is the "seed ship", which carries frozen embryos instead of frozen adults to save weight. The problems involved in rearing a generation of newborns without live parents are left as an exercise for the author.

Often overlaps with Colony Ship. Sleeper starships seem even more prone to Cryonics Failure than normal cryonics. If they do arrive safely, they may find that they've fallen victim to the problem of Lightspeed Leapfrog.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Project SEEDS in Trigun consisted of millions of humans on ice in thousands of ships, while a small awake crew searched for a habitable planet to settle. When Knives crashed the fleet into the planet Gunsmoke, most of the occupants were killed.
  • Lily C.A.T. travels between two planets, sticking most of the cast into cryostasis.

    Comic Books 
  • While exploring the Negative Zone, the Fantastic Four encounter the survivors of Kestor aboard a huge starship in Issue #253. Thousands of Kestorans lie in suspension tubes, while a minimal crew keeps the ship running. Subverted in that the First Officer knows a terrible secret: none of those in the tubes are viable. The crew are the last of their race, and they've been aboard ship for so long, they're unfit to live on any habitable planet.
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy character Vance Astro spent 1,000 years in suspended animation for a slower-than-light trip to Alpha Centauri... Only to find Earthmen had invented hyperdrive and beaten him there by several centuries. (However, they did throw him a welcoming party.) As a bonus bummer, the long time he spent in the tube has damaged his body so that he needed a full-body life-support suit to survive.

    Film 
  • The Alien series has these, though transit times suggest FTL.
  • The Elysium in Pandorum, though things went horribly wrong along the way.
  • The shuttle to the space cruiser in The Fifth Element put all of its passengers into 'hypersleep' just before takeoff, even though the trip took just a few hours. Possibly it was meant to save them from the discomfort of hyperspace entry.
  • In Avatar, Jake made the trip to Pandora in cold sleep.
  • Three of the five astronauts aboard the Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey were placed in suspended animation. The HAL-9000 computer interfered with their life support, killing all three.
  • In the original Planet of the Apes (1968), four astronauts in deep hibernation go on a 2000-year voyage. One of them, the only woman aboard, doesn't make it.
  • Pitch Black begns with the crew and passengers on a long-distance ship in hibernation. In a bit of unusual flair with the concept, the Anti-Hero (and narrator) Riddick is awake in his pod, and introducing the rest of the cast by smell.
  • Outland. It takes a year to travel from the mining colony on Io (a moon of Jupiter) back to Earth, so the travellers are put into cold sleep. At the end of the movie the hero tells his wife that he's looking forward to sleeping with her for an entire year.
  • In Event Horizon, the crew of the rescue ships are kept in pods during the trip. Par for the course for this Crapsack World: it isn't a pleasant experience. The reason for the pods is the lack of Inertial Dampening. When the ship accelerates, any human not in a fluid-filled pod will be squished into fine red paste.
  • In Rocket Man chambers are again used to conserve food and air on both the trip to Mars and the return trip. However, the protagonist is impeded from entering his both times.
    • A simple design adjustment would avoid this: simply make all 4 pods have identical sizes instead of having 3 human-sized ones and one for a monkey (and yes, the monkey ends up stealing the main character's pod both times).
  • The SSS17 in Alien Cargo, which carries chemicals from Titan to Earth and takes months to get there, so the crew operates in two-person shifts. Then something goes very very wrong on the last rotation...

    Literature 
  • Robert Silverberg's novella The Secret Sharer contained both variants, comatose humans in pods AND personalities-as-electronic-matrices
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has the Golgafrinchan B Ark, with thousands of Golgafrincha's most "worthless" third of the population frozen while the crew remained active.
    • In Mostly Harmless the alien Grebulons which set up on the planet Rupert are in one of these until a massive malfunction wakes them up early.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Methuselah's Children the New Frontiers was part sleeper part relativistic due to the thousands of people on board.
  • Most of humanity's first colonies in Larry Niven's Known Space universe were settled by sleeper ships, in one case the crew who stayed awake forced the colonists to accept a caste system with the crew on top as they were being awakened.
  • Niven and Pournelle's Footfall has the Fithp using a hybrid system, most are in stasis while necessary maintenance and piloting is done by successive generations of crew. The result is a significant culture clash between the 'Shipborn' and the defrosted original generation.
  • Sholan Alliance: This is how humans traveled to Kiess. About 1/3 of them never woke up.
  • The Legacy of Heorot. The Earth colonists aboard the starship Geographic are kept in frozen suspended animation for the trip. Unfortunately, being frozen and thawed (which happened repeatedly) caused brain damage, which the colonists' children called "ice on their minds".
  • The Revelation Space Series by Alastair Reynolds are full of Human Popsicles, as they deal with a universe in which Faster-Than-Light Travel is impossible. Notably, they make some attempt to deal realistically with the health dangers of cryogenics, beyond outright failure.
  • In Honor Harrington, for the first millennium or so of space travel sleeper ships are the only safe way to move around between the stars at sublight speeds, with hyperspace used almost entirely by high-risk scouting missions with correspondingly high fatality rates. Later advances in hyperspace travel make running into grav waves much less likely, making it safe enough for use in colonization efforts. The original Manticoran colonists put all their life savings in a series of trust funds and traveled to their new homeworld on a slower-than-light sleeper ship, knowing that within the 600 years or so it would take for them to get there, A) someone probably would have invented a safer form of FTL travel, and B) the managed trust would make it so they could buy what else they may need. The trust managers invested well over the years and when they arrived there was a small colony full of technical experts waiting for them, including the bare bones of what would be their space navy.
  • Roger Zelazny's * Isle Of The Dead is about a 20th-century Earthman who signs up as one of the first space explorers before humans have light speed. Everything has to be in sleeper ships and it takes 40-80 years to get to the planet. He does this several times. When FTL travel is made practical, it causes colossal changes throughout the galaxy, let alone Earth. Our hero is now the oldest living human, feels he doesn't belong anywhere, and goes to the longest-lived race in the galaxy to see how they live their thousand-year lives — and thereby hangs the tale.
  • Found in the Remnants series by K.A. Applegate. In an attempt to survive the impending destruction of Earth, people get onto a large spaceship and shoot blindly into space. In order to live as long as it takes to find a habitable planet, they enter a stasis of some sort. However, in a few characters' cases, it doesn't work out as planned. Specifically: Two-thirds of the passengers die outright from Cryonics Failure. One character remains conscious while frozen, thus being paralyzed and deprived of sensory input for five hundred years, which causes temporary catatonia and permanent brain-rearrangement upon revival. Another character, who was pregnant, gestates extremely slowly and gives birth, while still in stasis, to a Nightmare Fuel mutant baby with no eyes and a Psychic Link to its mother, among other things. It, too, grows extremely slowly while in stasis, ending up around two-ish physically when everyone gets unfrozen.
  • Harry Turtledove's World War series has the Race (and, once they master space flight) humans using cold sleep to travel between their respective homeworlds due to the distances involved. For humans, the process hasn't been perfected, and in the final book their ambassador (Henry Kissinger) dies sometime during the trip and this is only learned when they try and fail to revive him. Of course, it becomes a moot point when humans develop FTL travel near the end of the novel.
  • Peter Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy has Zero-Tau pods which are used to keep people in stasis, notably in colony ships. Since thousands of people are transported in each ship, the resources to feed and house the colonists for the voyage (even though it is rather short) would be beyond the ship's capacity. They are put in Zero-Tau pods, along with everything they take with them, namely embryos of farm animals and crop seeds. As added horrors: the Returned do not go to sleep in a Zero-Tau pod and essentially become conscious prisoners in the frozen body. Few of them can last for very long before they flee back into their dimension, driven half insane by the experience. Zero-Tau pods become the tradition exorcism measure.
  • In The Pentagon War, humans use "submetabolic sleep" technology to endure the years-long trips between star systems. Alpha Centaurians are cold blooded creatures who naturally hibernate when the temperature falls below 5 degrees C, so the only cryonic technology they need for interstellar voyages are refrigerators.
  • In Andrey Livadniy's The History of the Galaxy series, all early extrasolar colony ships had the crew/colonists placed in cryogenic chambers for the duration of the journey. Not all woke up on arrival. If the system failed to activate the revival process in a reasonable time frame, the Hugo BD 12 androids would switch to "colony survival" mode and take any steps necessary to that end, including manual activation of the waking up process. Most ships also include stasis chambers for emergencies, including escape pods.
    • Alpha, the first extrasolar colony ship (also the largest ship ever built due to the fact that hypersphere hasn't been discovered yet) was designed to have half its crew in stasis with both shifts alternating every six months.
  • Carrera's Legions: Colonists to Terra Nova were kept in cryogenics to cut down on consumables needed for the trip between the rift and the home planets of either star system, and make them easier to handle, particularly those who weren't making the trip voluntarily.
  • Allen Steele's novel Coyote features a sleeper ship with a saboteur aboard whose job it is to wake up a few weeks after the beginning of the mission and destroy the ship. The saboteur loses his nerve and changes places with a member of the crew who was supposed to stay asleep for the entire journey. This crewmember remains awake and lives out the rest of his life alone for several decades aboard the ship when the AI running the ship is unable to return him to sleep. The crewmember does leave a note for the captain explaining the situation and outing the saboteur, however.
  • Used to allow settling of Epsilon Erdani II in Helm by survivors of the destruction of Earth's ecosphere.
  • In Poul Anderson's "The Burning Bridge", many colonists are kept in this for the interstellar trip — they rotate.
  • Used in 'Dragonsdawn, with necessary crew rotating in five-year shifts.
  • This is supposedly the purpose of the eponymous Victory in Mark S. Geston's novel Lords of the Starship. Vast numbers of women and children are put into suspended animation and stacked like cordwood in the vast ship's hull, with the expectation that the men will follow before takeoff. However, the entire project is a hideous hoax. The ship is a fake, designed only to destroy itself and anyone in the vicinity. If the supposedly-frozen occupants weren't actually dead to begin with, they certainly are by the end of the book.
  • In Altered Carbon, it's mentioned that the anti-Brain Uploading Roman Catholic Church has sent a couple sleeper ships to other systems. While most prefer to needlecast their egos or if there is no receiver at the planet deploy an upload seedship.
  • In Rats, Bats and Vats, the earth ship that teraformed Harmony and Reason was not fast enough for humans to live on board as chip the protagonist was cloned based on DNA records and it's implied that the humans from earth were cryogenicaly frozen.
  • In Blindsight deep space travelers are given gene therapy so that they can hibernate for years with mechanical support. The genes are derived from vampires, who were a Human Subspecies that fed on other humans and slept for long periods so their prey could repopulate, and were extinct until recently.
  • In William Shatner's Star Trek Expanded Universe novels, this is how Emperor Tiberius I (Kirk's Evil Counterpart in the Mirror Universe) survives to the post-TNG era, while Kirk is stuck in the Nexus. After leading the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance against his former Terran Empire, he realizes he has outlived his usefulness and flees before the Cardassians and the Klingons can dispose of him on a ship with cryopods. Naturally, he only planned to "sleep" for a year before trying to retake his "rightful" place as Emperor, but the wake-up system failed, and the ship was adrift until about a year before the novels take place, when a Mirro!Klingon ship finds him. The Klingons immediately recognize him and plan for him to stand trial and be executed, but Tiberius manages to seduce a female Klingon and (after killing her), escape and enact his plan into motion.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Red Dwarf became an unintentional one when Lister was sentenced to spend the remainder of the intra-stellar voyage in stasis and ended up in there for three million years as Holly wandered into deep space waiting for the radiation leak to die down. Later the stasis booths on the Star Bug are used for two centuries at a time while chasing down the stolen Dwarf.
  • The Astraeus mission in later seasons of Eureka put its passengers in hibernation for the trip.
    • The hibernation was to keep the crew from getting crushed by the FTL drive's acceleration. It wasn't supposed to be a long trip at all. The distance from Earth to Titan is only about 70 light minutes, meaning a faster-than-light drive would take at most 70 minutes to get there.
  • The Stargate Atlantis team once found an Ancient battleship with its entire crew in stasis and connected to a virtual reality simulation.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed". The Enterprise encounters the S.S. Botany Bay, a "sleeper ship" with seventy two people in suspended animation. They turn out to be genetic supermen from the period of the Eugenics Wars on Earth.
    • It also explained why Khan was older than the others. As leader, he would have spent less time in the freezer tubes than his followers.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "The Long Morrow". An astronaut will be in frozen suspended animation during his forty year trip to a distant star and return.
  • An episode of Babylon 5 involved a ship sent from Earth shortly before First Contact (and use of FTL) with a married couple in stasis chambers. Unfortunately, only the woman survives. Her husband is dead, but not due to a malfunction. Actually, he is "eaten" by an Eldritch Abomination that hitched a ride on the ship.
  • An episode of Lexx has a group of teenagers convince their unpopular friend to steal his father's spaceship and go for a ride. Apparently, space travel using this method requires suspended animation, so they program the timer for a year. Unfortunately for them, they mess up the programming, and the timer is never activated. They're picked up centuries later by the titular Living Ship. One of the teens accidentally lets the undead assassin Kai loose with instructions to "kill everyone". Naturally, Kai slaughters all the teens in the most graphic way possible.
  • Lost in Space. The Robinsons were supposed to spend the trip to Alpha Centauri inside the Jupiter 2's suspended animation "freezing tubes"

    Music 
  • Bill Roper's "Space is Dark" has a group of interstellar astronauts finding out that a hyperdrive was invented while they were frozen.
    • The parody song "Compound Interest" has the astronauts investing their money in developing Faster-Than-Light Travel before setting out, so when they wake up they own most of colonized space.

    Pinball 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In GURPS Transhuman Space, nanostasis is routinely used to save on life support during interplanetary travel.
  • Classic Traveller. One common way to travel between star systems was "cold sleep", using drugs to slow down the passenger's metabolism. It was much cheaper than normal passage but had a risk of death during revival.
    • Book 5 High Guard. Military ships sometimes carried a "frozen watch", consisting of sailors in cold sleep who could be awakened to make up for crew losses in battle.
    • Adventure 3 Trillion Credit Squadron. Before the development of the jump drive cold sleep was used to settle far off solar systems. The Island Clusters subsectors were settled by three colonization ships, each carrying 100,000 colonists in cold sleep.

    Video Games 
  • Despite having warp drive the four colony ships that brought the original Terran colonists to the Koprulu sector in StarCraft used cryo. Just as well since a computer error led to them being in warp for thirty years. The UED Expeditionary force in "Brood War" did as well despite making the trip in a year or less.
  • In Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri, the Human colonies in Planet come from a big spaceship, the U.N.S. Unity, sent by the United Nations to build a colony in another planet, filled with thousands of cryogenically frozen people.
  • Crew for new ships in Homeworld are awakened from the massive bays of frozen colonists onboard the mothership. How many there are in total depends on how many you save in the second mission, up to 600,000. The manual mentions that the technology was developed based on certain Kharakian creatures that are able to hibernate for long periods of time. Maybe we should study bears.
    • The backstory for the Cataclysm expansion pack states that those who were awakened on Hiigara from those pods found themselves at a disadvantage. Those who fought the Taiidani claimed higher status than those who merely slept. This kicks off the main plot when a small clan tries to strike out on its own among the stars. The manual also touches on their reaction to learning that Everybody's Dead, Dave; many were Driven to Suicide.
  • Alien Legacy starts with the seedship UNS Calypso arriving to the Beta Caeli system after traveling for many thousands of years (according to some calculations). The crew has been on ice this whole time. You start with only a small portion of the colonists with the remaining ones still frozen due to lack of livable space and resources. As you build up your planetside colonies and ship colonists from the Calypso, more are awoken. A random even may happen that will kill the still-frozen colonists due to a malfunction if you're too slow in waking them up. Imagine the colonists' surprise when they found out that another seedship (launched 16 years later) beat them to the punch by 21 years thanks to advances in fusion.
  • Halo doesn't have large-scale dedicated sleeper ships, but most ships have cryogenic stasis. Master Chief begins the first game awakening from fugue and ends the third game going into a stasis pod.
    • This is because human slipstream technology isn't very advanced. It routinely takes from a week to several months to get from one star system to another. Cryopods are there to conserve supplies and to subjectively shorten the trip. The Covenant have no need for these, as their drives are much more efficient. After the third game's end, human slipspace tech takes a big leap, leaving cryosleep all but unnecessary as jumps now take hours or days.
  • In Live A Live's Science Fiction chapter, the crew of Cogito Ergosum spend most of the time in stasis, from which they wake up at the beginning of the chapter.
  • Features in the Star Citizen backstory. The sleeper ship Artemis was launched before the discovery of jump points and went missing in deep space.
  • The text-based game Planet Quarantine starts with the Player Character waking up from cold sleep as the ship Jessica is nearing an Earth-like world called Niah (short for "Needle in a Haystack"). The player is the commander of a quarantine team whose task is to go through each colonist's mind and possessions to make sure no "undesirable" items make it through to the new worlds (this is done en route to prevent a public outcry over such drastic censorship on Earth). All undesirable items are destroyed, and undesirable ideas are "corrected". If a person turns out to have faked his or her tests to get aboard a ship, he or she may wake up with a "freezer burn" that erases his or her personality, allowing that person to start a brand-new life on arrival. Depending on your choices in the game, you may take another such trip.
  • The intro to Freelancer shows the five Alliance colony ships being packed full of sleeping pods, despite having FTL drives. It's unclear how long the trip to the Sirius sector would take (the intro Time Skips after the jump to 800 years later and fully-established multi-system colonies), so the pods may be there to conserve supplies. The original intro shows a Coalition warship jumping after them, implying that either the ship also had pods (unlikely given what we know from Starlancer), or the trip is possible without them (the intro ending implies that the warship did indeed arrive).

    Webcomics 
  • In Freefall, cold sleep is necessary for both STL and FTL travel. Largely because the D.A.V.E. drive works by altering time flow so that decades pass on board while weeks pass planetside.
  • In the future arcs of S.S.D.D, interplanetary travel makes use of cryonics, little more than pressurized freezers with the passengers requiring implants to survive.

    Web Original 
  • Fairly common in the Orion's Arm universe, older ones using cryonics while most built during the Federation era and later use considerably safer nanostasis. One notable Cryonics Failure during the early days of interstellar travel resulted in House Stevens' practice of reproducing through cloning as a means of avoiding inbreeding.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars has most of the crew of the Axalon in stasis. When it looks like it's going to crash, Optimus Primal ejects the stasis pods in hopes that the sleeping crew would at least survive. A few do and make planetfall to join the war, but the majority are destroyed after the Season 1 finale, killed and knocked out of orbit by the alien superweapon or the Quantum Surge caused by its destruction.

    Real Life 
  • NASA is looking into the possibility of putting the crews of missions to Mars in therapeutic torpor for extended periods, with crew members taking shifts of maybe 14 days.

Shiny-Looking SpaceshipsSpacecraftSolar Sail
Slasher SmileAdded Alliterative AppealSleeping Single
Earth All AlongImageSource/Live-Action FilmsPlatoon

alternative title(s): Sleeper Ship
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