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Reaching for the Stars

Dr. Ekaterina Kostioukhina is studying the possibility of human hibernation during long space flights
Ekaterina Kostioukhina, M.D. ’13.

Ekaterina Kostioukhina, M.D. ’13.


katerina Kostioukhina, M.D. ’13, has a passion for travel, and since earning a degree from the Miller School, she has applied that interest in far-flung directions.

“I’m in New Zealand doing an assignment in a rural hospital, where there is a shortage of doctors,” she said in a recent interview. Also a visiting lecturer with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Kostioukhina is alternately involved in a much loftier pursuit of knowledge: researching the possibility of human hibernation for long spaceflights.

“Space travel was my dream as a kid,” she said. “I have this calling for going to extreme environments, and space is as extreme as you can get.” Although Dr. Kostioukhina has envisioned herself aboard a rocket ship (she applied for NASA’s astronaut program in 2020, though she wasn’t chosen), she’s using her skills to help others reach for the stars. She co-founded the Medical Society for Optimization of Human Performance in Space Environments, for which she serves as an Extreme Environments and Space Medicine consultant.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to establish a base camp on the moon by around 2030, but the space agency also has its sights set on Mars, a 300-million-mile journey that will take about seven months. Dr. Kostioukhina is among a group of international scientists studying the feasibility of crew members hibernating during the excursion.

“Many species hibernate — mammals, reptiles, birds — and humans have genes in common with them,” she explained. “The challenge is to find what triggers the brain to go into hibernation, when the body decreases its metabolism, heart rate, temperature and other vital functions.”

Dr. Kostioukhina’s ultimate goal, she said, “is to inspire other people to pursue their dreams despite limitations. Overcoming obstacles is my rocket fuel.”

FALL 2023