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Sleeper Starship
aka: Sleeper Ship

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Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. So big, in fact, that if Faster-Than-Light Travel (or close-to-lightspeed 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 modern 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. Contrast Generation Ships, in which people spend their lives out of stasis and are replaced at the helm by their children. If they do arrive safely, they may find that they've fallen victim to the problem of Lightspeed Leapfrog.

In some works such a ship could be seen as Mental Space Travel.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z: When Vegeta and Nappa set course for Earth, they set the system on their "Attack Ball" space pods to put themselves into a state of sleep for most of the one-year journey.
  • Trigun: Project SEEDS 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.

    Comic Books 
  • In EC Comics story "50 Girls 50", a crewman entrusted with setting the cryogenic controls on his ship exploits them to wake up early, unthaw women one at a time, and manipulate them into sexual relations until he gets bored, murders his current "Eve", and moves on to another. Double- and triple-crosses ensue.
  • In Fantastic Four issue #253, while exploring the Negative Zone, the Fantastic Four encounter the survivors of Kestor aboard a huge starship. 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 that 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 that 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 he needs a full-body life-support suit to survive.
  • Micronauts (Marvel Comics) basically cannibalizes the above figment of Astro's backstory and gives it to Arcturus Rann. Like Astro, he went into stasis for most of a space voyage only to find that the rest of the universe (well, Microverse) had discovered warp travel while he slept.
  • In Supergirl story Man of Steel Prequel, Kara and her group of space scouters are placed into stasis in order to survive the long journey to another world.
  • Superman story "The Super Duel In Space": In order to survive the long trip back to planet Colu, Brainiac and his pet Koko go into a pod and put themselves into suspended animation, setting his machines to revive him one hundred years later.

    Comic Strips 
  • Safe Havens: When planning a mission to Mars, Samantha considers this option to save on supplies and boredom. She also considers the idea of, instead of using any sort of technology to do that, just transforming the whole crew into bears and entering hibernation. (In the end it was concluded that it was actually cheaper just to install WiFi on board the ship to keep the crew entertained. Probably for the best in hindsight, considering Samantha ends up pregnant during the mission.)

    Film — Animation 
  • Lily C.A.T. travels between two planets, sticking most of the cast into cryostasis.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Three of the five astronauts aboard the Discovery One were placed in suspended animation. The trip is one of months, not centuries, but suspended animation is used to avoid the problem of having to pack several months' worth of food, and to help keep secret the real purpose of the mission. The HAL-9000 computer interfered with their life support, killing all three. In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Floyd tells his son it's "so we won't go cuckoo".
  • In the Alien series, most ships freeze their human crew/cargo, with the ships being run by Artificial Humans; however, transit times suggest FTL, so it probably is used to avoid the effects of a possible Time Dilation which would slow the time inside the ship while the universe sees it jump.
    • In Alien, the stasis effect was how the android planned to get a crewmember infected with an alien larva back home: the alien won't hatch in stasis, and the other cryopods can easily be sabotaged to eliminate all other witnesses.
    • In Aliens, we find that Ripley's escape crypod had been drifting for over half a century: she is now a woman without a place, as her family has all died of old age long before (setting up her adoption of Newt). The Sulaco also uses suspended animation, which - echoing the first movie - Burke plans to use to smuggle facehugger larvae past Earth's quarantine.
    • In Alien³, the Sulaco is attempting to return home via autopilot (as the few surviving humans are in the freezer and the AP, Bishop, is damaged): thus, nobody is available to kill a facehugger that managed to get aboard and causes more damage.
    • In the prequel movies Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, stasis pods are shown being used on earlier slower interstellar spaceships like the Covenant.
  • 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...
  • The cryosleep variety is used in Avatar with the RDA's Interstellar Vessels. Even at the phenomenal speed afforded by their matter-antimatter engines — 70 percent the speed of light — the journey from Earth to Pandora's solar system, Alpha Centauri, still takes over five years.
  • The wealthy elite have such a ship in Don't Look Up. They end up using it after their greed dooms the planet Earth, only to wind up on a planet very hostile to human life, and over a third of the cryo chambers failed.
  • In Doppelgänger, Ross and Kane are placed in suspended animation for their outbound journey onboard the Phoenix, being revived three weeks later when they reach the Counter-Earth.
  • In Event Horizon, the crew of the rescue ships are kept in stasis in pods during the trip, though not for the usual reason: it is designed to palliate the lack of Inertial Dampening. When the ship accelerates, any human not in a fluid-filled pod will be squished into fine red paste. It's not clear how this acceleration affects other items on the ship, however.
  • The Fifth Element, the shuttle to the space cruiser puts all of its passengers into 'hypersleep' just before takeoff, even though the trip takes just a few hours.
  • In Interstellar, the astronauts sent through the wormhole spend most of the two-year trip to the wormhole (orbiting Saturn) in suspended animation. They also carry human embryos as a Plan B for humanity's survival. It's only halfway through the movie that the astronauts discover there is no Plan A to save the humans back on Earth.
  • Moon: A hibernation chamber is used by the solitary moonbase operator for the three-day trip back to Earth. It turns out to be an incineration chamber, as each operator is a clone who is destroyed after Clone Degeneration sets in and replaced by another clone with Fake Memories.
  • In Mr. Nobody, Nemo takes a trip to Mars aboard one of these, in order to maintain his late bride's promise of spreading her ashes on the red planet.
  • Non-sci-fi variant: In Noah, the paired animals are drugged with herbal smoke to place them into a hibernation-like state, thus allowing the Ark to safely carry them for months without need for animal-fodder, water, or attention.
  • 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.
  • The Elysium in Pandorum features a model of pod that combinates a hypersleep chamber and an Escape Pod, and it seems to have its user contained in an artificial skin aside from the classic liquid.
  • Passengers (2016) is set on a starship making a 120-year journey, with automated robots running things and all the humans in hibernation. Problem is, for some reason, two people wake up 90 years early and can't get their pods to work again.
  • Pitch Black begins 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.
  • In 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.
  • In RocketMan (1997), 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).

  • Aeon 14: The initial human settlement of the stars around Earth was accomplished through sleeper ships that took decades or centuries to reach their destinations. The Future Generation Terraformers' "worldships" went first, followed by several waves of colonies organized by the Generational Space Service. The protagonists' ISS Intrepid is the biggest and most advanced ever built, 25 kilometers long and carrying a population of 25 million. It's also the last: the Sol system falls into Civil War not long after they leave in the early 42nd century, and a couple hundred years later, Faster-Than-Light Travel is invented and all hell breaks loose.
  • Aurora Cycle: Most people undertake Fold journeys frozen because it has negative effects on conscious minds. Anyone over 25 has to travel in cryo, while younger people will be okay, but need to be in cryo if the journey is long enough. Auri O'Malley becomes a Fish out of Temporal Water when the colony ship she was travelling on was lost in the Fold for 220 years until her rescue at the beginning, with herself as the only survivor.
  • In Between Planets, the passengers on an interplanetary liner bound for Venus argue about whether to sign up for hibernation; the only apparent drawback (and the subject of an explicitly unanswerable bunk-room debate) is whether or not cold-sleep "stops the clock" on whatever lifespan you otherwise could have expected to have, or if it means that you miss out on that much of your allotted lifetime by spending it as a frozen quasi-corpse.
  • 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 Poul Anderson's "The Burning Bridge", many colonists are kept in this for the interstellar trip — they rotate.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Downloaded has the Hōkūleʻa sent to Proxima Centauri in the mid-21st century with a crew of 24. The vessel isn't meant to go above 10% of the speed of light, so the journey is expected to take 500 years. However, the risk of quantum decoherence of the consciousness means the minds of the crew have to be stored in an active state in quantum computers back on Earth (while connected to the ship through quantum entanglement), although the clock speeds have been dialed down, so that only 4 years will pass for the astronauts. Near the day of the scheduled approach of the system, The Captain checks the telescopes from inside her "silo" and learns that the Hōkūleʻa is still in Earth's orbit. They never went anywhere. She and the ship's doctor then defrost their bodies (which were never loaded onto the ship) and have their minds downloaded into them. They find out that a calamity of some kind has befallen Earth shortly after they were frozen (the facility where they were stored was self-sufficient and heavily shielded to prevent quantum decoherence and survived the apocalypse and the subsequent centuries). The Captain assumes the catastrophe was a coronal mass ejection that fried all the electronics across the world, plunging civilization into chaos. They later find Mennonite survivors, although they have trouble communicating as English has drastically changed in the five centuries, especially without movies and TV to hold back such changes.
  • Dragonriders of Pern: Used in Dragonsdawn, with necessary crew rotating in five-year shifts.
  • In The Dream Millennium by James White, humans flee a dystopian future Earth on a thousand-year-long trip on a sleeper starship. They are periodically awakened for monitoring and to decide if they should stop at planets the ship approaches. However, while going into and out of suspended animation, they start to have nightmares in which they experience increasingly violent deaths — and it's a long voyage...
  • 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.
  • Used to allow settling of Epsilon Erdani II in Helm by survivors of the destruction of Earth's ecosphere.
  • The History of the Galaxy:
    • 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 BD12 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.
    • The 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. Besides the crew, there were 500,000 colonists in stasis.
    • Word of God is that by the time the half-a-century period known as the Great Exodus ended, 7023 colony ships (with the colonists in stasis pods despite FTL travel having been discovered) have been sent out from Earth. The vast majority of them have either been lost, destroyed, never made planetfall, landed on planets incapable of supporting human life, or resulted in the colonists degrading (either dying out or forming Lost Colonies).
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy:
    • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has a modified version on the Golgafrinchan B Ark, with thousands of Golgafrincha's most "worthless" third of the population spending most of their time frozen while the crew (equally, or possibly even more, worthless) remained active (suggesting that the trip couldn't have been that long). The passengers were probably frozen for a mixture of reasons not having to do with the length of the trip: to keep them from getting in the way, to keep them from getting bored, to keep them from having the spare time to figure out that the plan is for them to crash and die at the end of the trip ...
    • The above book also has a spaceship on Frogstar B, which is holding its departure while waiting for the ship's supply of lemon-scented towelettes to be restocked. Since civilization on the planet fell centuries ago, they've been waiting a long time, but the robotic attendants are figuring that eventually civilization will re-arise, and then there will be lemon-scented towelettes again, and then they can take off. In the meantime, the (by now hopelessly insane) passengers are kept asleep most of the time.
    • 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 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.
  • The Souls from The Host (2008) go into suspended animation when traveling between worlds since the trip can take up to a century.
  • In the Hyperion Cantos, Martin Silenus is frozen and put on a spaceship by his parents so he won't have to face the family's collapse. When he wakes up Martin's mind still works but he can only voice six words due to brain damage (all of them offensive) and is faced with several generations' worth of debt. Too bad when your career of choice is "poet" — though it turns out that this and his life on a Crapsack World were needed to teach him to be a proper genius.
  • 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.
  • In the Jacob's Ladder Trilogy, the colony ship Jacob's Ladder carries hundreds of thousands of cryonically frozen passengers in addition to a living crew.
  • Most of humanity's first colonies in the 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.
  • The Legacy of Heorot and Beowulf's Children (co-written by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes), with a crew of interstellar colonists who discover too late the drawbacks of the freezing process they used, with the colonists suffering various forms of brain damage after being frozen and thawed multiple times, a phenomenon that their children call "ice on their minds".
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe: The ship the main character Romy is on, The Infinity, serves this purpose, designed to transport people to a planet in Alpha Centauri by putting them in a form of cryo sleep called Topar. Romy was born when two of the crewmembers had a kid, making her the first human born in space. However, thanks to a series of events, Romy ends up as the only person on board.
  • In Lord of Light, the fact that the colonists were all shipped through interstellar space as human popsicles is offered as the explanation for why they didn't develop mutant superpowers when the ship's crew did.
  • 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 The Lost Fleet, protagonist John Geary's ship is sneak-attacked by Syndicate Worlds warships and destroyed after a desperate battle. His hibernation escape pod's beacon is damaged, leaving him stranded among the ship's debris for over a century. When he's finally picked up, he discovers that the war started by the sneak attack has run continuously ever since. Worse yet, his heroic last stand has become the stuff of legends, and "Black Jack" Geary is now something of a semi-mythical folk hero. Worst of all, the terrible casualty rate has killed off skilled fleet officers faster than they could train the next generation, and as a result the tactics of the day mainly consist of charging wildly at the enemy and relying on Heroic Spirit. Enter John Geary, a fairly average fleet officer from 100 years ago, which makes him effectively a tactical genius now...
  • Methuselah's Children: The starship New Frontiers was part sleeper part relativistic due to the thousands of people on board.
  • 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 traditional 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 Rats, Bats and Vats, the Earth ship that terraformed Harmony and Reason was not fast enough for humans to live on board, as the protagonist Chip was cloned based on DNA records, and it's implied that the humans from Earth were cryogenically frozen.
  • The Red Dwarf books explain that about a century before the series starts, there was interest in interstellar travel so ships built then (like the Dwarf) had stasis booths. But every starship that was sent out found no habitable worlds and no sign of life in any solar system they had the delta-V to reach, and by the time of Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers humanity had given it up as a waste of time and money. Until they came up with a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel, anyway.
  • Remnants: 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 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.
  • In Rendezvous with Rama, the titular vessel is assumed by some characters to be a sleeper ship, though later novels reveal it to be something entirely different.
  • The Revelation Space Series is full of Human Popsicles, as they deal with a universe in which Faster-Than-Light Travel is impossible, though near lightspeed travel is possible via Lighthuggers. On most journeys, cryogenic pods aren't strictly necessary as Time Dilation caused by near-C speed means that the subjective time to travel a dozen lightyears is only a fraction of that, though passengers and most crew are frozen for the sake of convenience. Notably, the series makes some attempt to deal realistically with the health dangers of cryogenics, beyond outright failure.
  • In The Rolling Stones (1952), when twins Castor and Pollux Stone suggest making money on the family's vacation voyage to the Asteroid Belt by taking along a few Asteroid Miners in hibernation, their father vetoes it, pointing out that only about seven in ten cold-sleep passengers will survive a lengthy voyage.
  • The eight million original colonists in Safehold were transported in this state, "stacked up like cordwood" in several ships, while the colony's command crew stayed awake.
  • In Scanners Live in Vain, this is a requirement for normal people to travel in space, due to the "Great Pain of Space", a physical and mental agony, implied to be caused by radiation, that drives anyone who experiences it to suicide. The crew of spacecraft, on the other hand, well...
  • Robert Silverberg's novella The Secret Sharer contains both variants, comatose humans in pods and personalities as electronic matrices.
  • In Sholan Alliance, this is how human colonists travel to get to their first extra-solar colony world, Kiess. It performs poorly, with about one-third dying before planetfall.
  • The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke features both the cryogenic suspension of humans and embryo seed ship versions. Thalassa was settled by a seed ship several hundred years before the last survivors from Earth show up in cryogenic suspension on the Magellan.
  • 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 Mirror Universe 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.
  • Takeshi Kovacs: In Altered Carbon, it's mentioned that the anti-Brain Uploading Roman Catholic Church has sent a couple sleeper ships to other systems. Most prefer to needlecast their egos or, if there is no receiver at the planet, deploy an upload seedship.
  • In Time to Orbit: Unknown, the colonists are not frozen but held in a sort of biochemical slowdown which requires growing artificial nerves to maintain the body's fitness. This process is slightly risky and can only be done once, so once you wake up from stasis, you're staying awake. As such, the trip was designed to have two crews, one which would cover the first half of the journey and then start their sleep, and one which would be woken up midway through and then stay awake until arrival.
  • Undertow by Elizabeth Bear has a galactic society that uses Schrodinger's Uncertainty Principle to teleport goods and information instantly between planets. However, living creatures like humans that go through the process wind up dead on the other side due to collapsing the wave function. As such, transporting people from planet to planet requires slower-than-light ships and cryonics.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, it's implied that the settlement of Beta Colony, one of the first planets colonized off of Earth, was done using this method at sublight speed, as there were either no wormholes leading to the system, or the wormhole technology hadn't been invented yet.
  • Voyage From Yesteryear by James P. Hogan has the planet Chiron orbiting one of the stars of Alpha Centauri be initially settled by humans from an embryo seed ship; followed decades later by a series of starships from Earth with crews who live through the entire voyage. The confrontation between the two quickly bogs down in a Filibuster Freefall, for which Hogan became infamous.
  • James White used this trope a lot:
    • The Dream Millennium is about the crew and passengers of a starship on a thousand-year-long voyage between several star systems. They are periodically awakened by the ship's autopilot to make command decisions and make sure they have not been victims of Cryonics Failure. But then they start dreaming during the freezing and thawing process...
    • In one Sector General story, the protagonists have to deal with the technical, medical, and logistical problems created by the discovery of a severely damaged Sleeper Starship which has functioning life-support for the (many) surviving popsicles, but nothing else. In another, they initially mistake a Living Ship in suspended animation along with its crew for a patient with a parasitic disease.
    • In The Silent Stars Go By, humans in an Alternate History launch a starship with tens of thousands of passengers in suspended animation monitored by crew members who do two-year-long shifts before returning to sleep themselves.
    • In The Watch Below, aquatic aliens fleeing the destruction of their world arrive on Earth. There is conflict between those who spent the centuries-long trip sleeping and the Generation Ship crew.
  • The Worldwar 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, which 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.
  • The Worthing Saga uses a variant in which people lose all of their memories while in stasis, so their brains need to be scanned in advance so their personalities can be re-uploaded when they wake. This leads to a situation in which, due to a collision, 112 colonists are technically alive, but only two of them have surviving memories. The remaining colonists are essentially newborns in adult bodies when they wake up and have to relearn everything in order to function.
  • Zones of Thought: In A Deepness in the Sky, sleeper units are the only way for slow-zone spacers to survive the decades and centuries between ports. At one point, the young Pham Nuwen avoids using one out of fear and spends a couple of years studying instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Eligius IV pops up in the fifth season of The 100. It's an interstellar mining ship that uses prisoner labor, with cryosleep used to help the prisoners and crew survive the journey.
  • The Ark (2023): The starship Ark 1 was supposed to work this way. Then things went wrong.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The episode "The Long Dark" involves 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.
    • Shows up later in the series with a ship full of telepaths who are put in suspended animation before being sent by Psycorps to the Shadows. This is less because of the duration of the trip and more because they have been altered with cybernetics to control machines and make Shadow vessels immune to telepathic jamming.
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978): The fleet comes upon a ship carrying 2 families (a father and his kids, a mother and her kids but the adults aren't a couple). The fleet nearly kills the father, by waking him up. The atmosphere on the Galactica is too heavy for him. They are escaping from a colony, where none of the people born can return to their home world which is divided into east (USSR) and west (US) because they can't survive in the atmosphere.
  • Blake's 7: The seedship version is encountered in "Time Squad" and "Deliverance".
  • Used extensively in the setting of Earth 2; for decades-long interstellar trips like the main cast's journey from Earth to G889, for relatively short-duration trips within the solar system, and for medical purposes. This is despite repeatedly undergoing the cold sleep procedure causing brain damage, which happened to one of the main characters as part of his backstory (it also accidentally made him receptive to the alien Terrians' telepathy).
  • Eureka: The Astraeus mission in later seasons puts its passengers in hibernation for the trip. The hibernation is to keep the crew from getting crushed by the FTL drive's acceleration; it isn'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.
  • This is how Firefly indicates humans got from Earth to the new system they colonized.
  • 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".
  • The Red Dwarf became an unintentional one when Lister was arrested for smuggling and sentenced to spend the remainder of the intra-stellar voyage in stasis. Mid-way, a disaster flooded the ship with radiation and the AI, Holly, had to wait three million years for it to go away, leaving Lister the only (human) survivor. Later the stasis booths on the Star Bug are used for two centuries at a time while chasing down the stolen Dwarf.
  • The Stargate Atlantis team once finds an Ancient battleship with its entire crew in stasis and connected to a virtual reality simulation.
  • The Starlost had a subset of the original crew in suspended animation as well as the many generations of people living in the ship's many biospheres. Unfortunately, the one member of the crew who is revived is fatally ill and unable to help repair the ship.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the 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 explains why Khan is older than the others — as leader, he would have spent less time in the freezer tubes than his followers.
    • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Neutral Zone" follows up on this with another spacecraft discovered by the crew of the Enterprise-D in the 24th century. This is a primitive "cryosatellite" or "capsule" of roughly late 20th or early 21st-century technology containing a vault with cryotubes. Several are empty, at least one experienced a cryo-failure, and three contain human popsicles, although unlike Khan and his followers, these are regular old un-augmented 20th-century human beings who had died of natural causes and had been put in cryo-stasis so their bodies would not decay, with the hope their condition could be reversed with more advanced medicine in the future. It works, but it's still a mystery how an orbital satellite with very limited propulsion wound up hundreds of lightyears from the Sol System.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode "The Long Morrow", an astronaut will be in frozen suspended animation during his forty-year trip to a distant star and return.



  • In Earthsearch and Earthsearch II, relativity is never violated, as interstellar travel is only possible due to suspended animation. However, the starship the protagonists use was also designed as a Generation Ship because every year as a Human Popsicle means they age a month.
  • Journey into Space:
    • In Frozen in Time, Jet, Lemmy, Doc, and Mitch were placed in the suspended animation pods of Ares on May 10, 1977. Pod 4, containing Jet, failed after several weeks. As such, Jet was forced to operate the ship alone for almost 36 years until the other three crewmembers were revived on March 9, 2013.
    • In The Host, the Ares crew are awakened from suspended animation when the ship receives a Distress Call from the Vardis on May 17, 2079. Edie Harper later tells the crew that the other 47 crewmembers of the Enceladus research station entered stasis two years earlier after their funding was cut off.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Travel between Earth and Poseidon in Blue Planet is spent in induced hypothermic metabolic suppression, lowering life support requirements enough to be economically possible at all. IHMS is grueling, and even people who survive it are often worse for wear.
  • Coriolis: The Third Horizon:
    • The Zenith, a massive Colony Ship launched from Earth to Aldabaran in the backstory, was a hybrid sleeper and Generation Ship with most of the colonists in stasis while the crew were awake and formed a hereditary caste system over the centuries. With the captain's family forming the nobility of the Zenithian Hegemony after they reached their destination.
    • The portals connecting most inhabited systems project fields that have deleritous effects on human sanity, so most ship crews enter stasis before approaching a portal. Many ships making multi-portal voyages will just leave the passengers or crew in their stasis beds until they reach their destination, unless they're passing through a particularly dangerous system.
  • In Eclipse Phase, Hibernoids were genetically engineered to crew interplanetary ships with the ability to sleep for up to 40 days at a time without food or water. Titan's and Firewall's interstellar colonization projects (without the Pandora Gates) tend to focus on upload ships.
  • In Transhuman Space, nanostasis is routinely used to save on life support during interplanetary travel.
  • In 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The ships of the Charnel Guard Chapter of Adeptus Astartes contain vast stasis crypts where the battle-brothers of the Chapter sleep in suspended animation between campaigns.
    • In Battlefleet Gothic, the Dhows utilised by the Tau Empire's Nicassar subjects are primarily sleeper ships, each containing a hibernating extended family of the semi-nomadic aliens as they slowly travel across the gulfs of interstellar space.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks: In Mission: SPACE at Epcot, the riders spend most of the months-long trip to Mars in hypersleep

    Video Games 
  • Alien Legacy:
    • The game 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 a lack of livable space and resources. As you build up your planetside colonies and ship colonists from the Calypso, more are awoken. A random event 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.
    • According to the Backstory, the Calypso is one of many Odessa-class seedships sent out as a last-ditch effort to preserve humankind elsewhere in the galaxy, when it becomes clear that humans are losing the war with the Centaurians (it's later revealed in the game that the Centaurians are driven by a genetically-imprinted hatred for all beings not created by the H'riak). Each seedship captain is given strict orders to maintain radio silence and assume that Earth and every other seedship have been destroyed.
  • The Genesis expansions for ARK: Survival Evolved are set aboard the namesake Colony Ship whose passengers are kept in hibernation, their minds linked to a grueling simulation program to train them for arrival on an unknown planet. They're awakened as needed for maintenance when the automated systems fail... or when the ship gets attacked.
  • All the colonists in Civilization: Beyond Earth travel in these except for the Al Falah faction, who arrived in a Generation Ship (the "Rising Tide" DLC). As such, they usually refer to the other factions as "Sleepers". It's stated that it was the fifth generation that finally reached the planet. In a way, it was a blessing for them, as the long journey and generations of passing down only the necessary values means that all they care about is the success of their mission. Things of the past, such as race, tribe, old grudges, religion, no longer matter to them.
  • Cyberqueen is set on one of these. It starts when the protagonist wakes, to find that all the other pods are empty. It turns out that the ship's AI has rebelled and is subjecting crew members to various forms of Body Horror.
  • In Earth 2160, it's eventually revealed that the United Civilized States evacuation ship is of this type. When it failed to arrive to Mars in-between Earth 2150 and Earth 2160, the other two factions (Eurasian Dynasty and Lunar Corporation) assumed that it was either destroyed by a meteor or that the on-board computer went insane and killed everyone aboard. In fact, the computer simply chose to keep the evacuees on ice until the ED and the LC pound each other in a brutal war of attrition, then follow up by sending in robot army to clean up the mess, freeing up room for UCS settlers.
  • In Evolve, ships store their passengers and crew in cryopods while in Cherenkov space, with only A.I.s left 'awake'.
  • 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 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).
  • Halo doesn't have large-scale dedicated sleeper ships, but most ships have cryogenic stasis. 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 original trilogy's end, human slipspace tech takes a big leap, leaving cryosleep all but unnecessary except for very long distances, as shorter jumps now take hours or days.
  • Homeworld:
    • Though an FTL ship, the Mothership was intended to carry six giant cryo-trays that each held 100,000 colonists to Hiigara after returning from her shakedown cruise. After Kharak is destroyed the Mothership's crew and those cryo-trays represent the last of their people. 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. One particular Hiigaran was one of only two members of his small kiith who made the cut (the other was his wife). When he was awakened at Hiigara, he discovered that not only was his entire kiith wiped out when the Taiidani destroyed Kharak, but his wife was also killed when the remaining Taiidani ships opened fire on the cryo-pods. Instead of committing suicide, he demanded and was given a small frigate, crewed by others who have been likewise hurt by the Taiidani, who became honorary members of his kiith. The manual claims that the man became one of the most prolific bounty hunters, going after many of the Taiidani war criminals.
  • 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.
  • The titular Marathon colony ship is a generational ship. The Martian moon Deimos was converted into the Marathon and sent on a 300-year journey to Tau Ceti. While a few crew members "wake" during the trip, most of them are in suspended animation for the duration. By the time the game staarts, the Marathon has arrived at Tau Ceti and construction of a colony on the planet has begun.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda stars the crew of one, arriving in the Andromeda galaxy after a generations-long trip. The original trilogy never needed this, as mass relays allow rapid intragalactic transportation but don't exist outside the Milky Way. In fact, the player arrives on one of four such ships, one from each major Citadel Council race: asari, salarian, turian, human, with an occasional minor race representative thrown in (there's a krogan crew member). The ships were sent out shortly after Mass Effect 2 (i.e., prior to the Reaper invasion) and have traveled for 600 years. Upon arriving, the crew finds that their ship has been thrown off-course and must now try to locate the other three ships and the Nexus, a Citadel-like hub station sent ahead of the ships. The ending of the original trilogy remains deliberately unknown, separated from the new setting in both time (600 years) and space (over 2 million light-years). Discussion is made that there were plans for a fifth ark, helmed by the quarians (and also including drell, volus, elcor, and hanar), but with the technical problems of accommodating those species on one ship, no one's sure whether it'll turn up or not. It's not until after the end of the game that it turns out it does exist. Also, in a side-mission, it turns out that the kett, who lack the Portal Network of the mass relays, also use these to get about Andromeda.
  • Outriders: The last of humanity is packed in cryopods on the Flores for the journey to Enoch. A more specific example is the Outrider, who is shoved into a pod by Shira in the prologue and wakes up 31 years later.
  • Out There starts with the protagonist waking up from cryosleep to discover that he is not, in fact, near Jupiter, as expected but in a remote star system. Luckily, there's some sort of alien device in space that gives you the plans for a space folder. To build it, you need silicon, and the only way to get it at this point is to dismantle your cryochamber. If you run out of fuel and/or oxygen without anything onboard to replenish them, then you get a Non-Standard Game Over with a message that your Player Character is entering a stasis chamber... even if your ship doesn't have one.
  • All the colonists in Pandora: First Contact travel in these except for one of the factions, Terra Salvum, who lacked the funds to buy one of Noxium's starships, instead stealing the plans and building their own. Since they lacked the technical know-how to build proper (and safe) cryopods, they settled for sending a Generation Ship. Improper radiation shielding also killed off most of the adults, resulting in only children making it to the final destination, even more fanatical than their parents in their desire to stop the exploitation of the planet by the others.
  • Choice of Games' 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.
  • Rimworld: Due to a lack of FTL technology, this is the only thing allowing for long-distance space travel; this is the reason why Lost Colonies are absolutely everywhere. Half the starting scenarios involve their malfunction near a planet, necessitating their evacuation, and the endgame is usually to make another and set off to the stars once more.
  • The titular ship in Seedship is this, carrying the last of humanity.
  • In Sid Meier's 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 on another planet, filled with thousands of cryogenically frozen people.
  • Features in the Star Citizen backstory. The sleeper ship Artemis was launched before the discovery of jump points and went missing in deep space.
  • StarCraft: Despite having warp drive, the four colony ships that brought the original Terran colonists to the Koprulu sector 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 this as well, despite making the trip in a year or less.
  • WildStar has FTL, but both the Exiles and Dominion transport the bulk of their settlers to Nexus in cryo-storage. The Exiles in particular had been wandering space for three centuries, rotating non-essential personnel in and out of cryo to avoid overtaxing life support on their rickety old ship. Your character starts out getting thawed upon arrival in system.
  • The White Whale in Xenoblade Chronicles X was designed this way, with a portion of the crew running the ship using robot bodies remote-controlled by their still-sleeping selves in stasis. When the ship is destroyed, the bodies still in stasis are preserved in the ship's core. In truth, rather than storing bodies in stasis, their minds were uploaded into the core's computer.

  • 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. Unfortunately, the drugs involved take such a toll on the body that it takes seven to eight years to recover afterwards.
    • Humans with "spacer genes" can enter a lighter form of hibernation for long interplanetary trips, which is rather fortunate in Winston's case as, ironically, he's vacuum-phobic.
  • The Brain Uploading version is used in a couple of later arcs of Schlock Mercenary, once the nanomachine technology to make backup copies of people's minds and rebuild their bodies is widely available.
  • 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 
  • Like its parent source, Dragon Ball Z Abridged had Vegeta and Nappa enter a sleep state as they headed for Earth...except it wasn't perfect, as Nappa kept asking 'Are We There Yet?''.
  • 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 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: In "Spacecadeuce", Emory and Oglethorpe are supposed to be in 'hypersleep' stasis. While Emory is sleeping like a log, Oglethorpe is too afraid to sleep and ends up with an alien trying to get into his pod for months until hypersleep was over.
    Emory: Amazing hypersleep! I think I had, like, thirty wet dreams.
  • Il était une fois... l'Espace: The first interstellar spaceship from Earth was of this kind. Believed lost for nearly a millennium by the start of the series, said spaceship arrives unannounced to its destination — smack in the middle of Federation space — and the recently reawakened crew finds out that the cosmos was colonized by much faster ships, and their thousand-year journey now takes about a week.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Moist Vessel", despite being called a "generation ship," the stranded alien vessel has all its passengers "mummified" in suspended animation capsules.
    • Star Trek: Prodigy: Jankom Pog travelled to the Delta Quadrant in one. The pre-Federation Tellarites used to fill their exploratory vessels with orphans.
  • Transformers:
    • Beast Wars: 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 Vok superweapon or the Quantum Surge caused by its destruction.
    • Transformers: Cyberverse: When the Ark begins to run low on Energon during its search for the Allspark, Optimus orders all Autobots into stasis while the ship's computers take over the search.

    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 three-day shifts followed by maybe two weeks in stasis.
  • Here's a good video on the whole subject by educational science channel Curious Droid. It looks at the possible realistic attempts at something like this trope, and why there are so many challenges and limitations needed to be overcome.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sleeper Ship


S.S. Botany Bay

Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Lt. McGivers investigate an old sleeper ship from the year 1996.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / SleeperStarship

Media sources: