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A sleeper ship is a hypothetical type of manned spaceship in which most or all of the crew spends the journey in some form of hibernation or suspended animation. The only known technology that allows for long-term suspended animation of humans is the freezing of early-stage human embryos through embryo cryopreservation, which is behind the concept of embryo space colonization.
The most common role of sleeper ships in fiction is for interstellar travel usually at sub-light speed. Travel times for such journeys could reach into the hundreds or thousands of years making some form of life extension, such as suspended animation, necessary for the original crew to live to see their destination. Suspended animation is also required on ships which cannot be used as generation ships.
Suspended animation can also be useful to reduce the consumption of life support system resources by crew members who are not needed during the trip, or by an author as a plot device, and for this reason sleeper ships sometimes also make an appearance in the context of purely interplanetary travel.
Examples in fiction
There are numerous examples of sleeper ships in science fiction literature and films. Some of the best-known examples are:
- Far Centaurus published in Destination: Universe! by AE van Vogt
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- The film Lost in Space, in which the suspended animation system fails, bringing the crew of the Jupiter 2 out of sleep prematurely.
- Nostromo, the sleeper/cargo ship in the film Alien
- Sulaco, the sleeper/war ship in the film Aliens
- Planet of the Apes
- Stargate SG-1, A ship is found with its crew in cryostasis.
- Stargate Universe - The crew of the destiny enter stasis in order to sleep during a potentially millennia long trip.
- SS Botany Bay, a sleeper ship in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed"
- Called a "sail-ship" by Cordwainer Smith in Think Blue, Count Two
- New Mayflower and Ark from Frederik Pohl's novel The World at the End of Time
- Firefly - The human race leaves the Sol system
- After Earth
- Freelancer - five sleeper ships built by the Alliance: the Bretonia, the Rheinland, the Hispania, the Kusari and the Liberty
- Interstellar - Earth is on the brink of disaster and NASA decides to send 4 astronauts on a sleeper ship through a wormhole to see what planets can be colonized by the human race.
- In the official trailer of the video game Civilization: Beyond Earth, a sleeper ship was seen sending humans from Earth to an alien planet.