Q: Are the astronauts under the effects of suspended animation, cryogenics, or stasis?
A: I believe that the ANSA astronauts in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes are under a rather limited form of suspended animation, one where they are not completely protected from the aging process, but rather a method whereby the natural aging process is severely retarded to a ridiculously low level. Given the images in the movie as evidence, we see this to be true.
Taylor also apparently injects himself with some kind of drug or chemical which may be required to prepare his body for such a long hibernation.
The interesting effects of this process is that while the aging process is slowed drastically, it is not stopped completely. All three male astronauts awaken with beards but their hair is still nearly as short as when they went to sleep. This is somewhat baffling as you would expect that all of their hair would grow out during the 12 months that they were asleep in hibernation, and not just facial hair.
Another point to note is that Stewart dies when her suspended animation chamber malfunctions. If an air leak killed her during her long hibernation, this would suggest that the atmosphere inside her chamber was not the same as that which occupied the outside cockpit of the ANSA spacecraft, but was somehow different. We notice a crack in the glass lid, and Taylor later explains that Stewart died of an 'air leak' which would indicate that the hibernation chambers operate on some type of special gas or mixture of gasses which the astronauts breathe when the chamber is sealed and special gasses which are used to retard the aging process. There is probably a very finite amount of this gas stored in each chamber, and it is recycled before the chamber is opened and the astronauts awakened.
If Stewart's chamber had a crack in the lid, and this finite amount of gas escaped through that crack, then that would explain her tragic death but raise other questions as well. Stewart asphyxiated in her sleep and her body mummified in the trace elements of atmosphere remaining in her chamber. It is clear that she never woke up, and that she didn't even know what was happening to her. Most people who asphyxiate die in horrible contorted shapes, usually trying to scratch or claw their way out of whatever container they are in or grabbing at their throats for air. Stewart is peaceful in her death, indicating that when she died, she went so without any knowledge of it at all. Was it sudden? Possibly, or it may also have been so gradual so as not to cause any alarm.
And speaking of alarms, why the onboard flight systems and computers, let alone what appears to be fully automated hibernation chambers didn't alert or awaken the other astronauts as to the problem with Stewart's hibernation chamber is also up for debate. One would assume that in such an advanced type of spacecraft, that certain safeguards and fail-safes would be part of the overall design and that these would have prevented Stewart's death by either automatically correcting the problem, or awakening the astronauts so that the problem could be corrected manually.
It is also interesting to note that Taylor's crew is the only one portrayed in the movies as undergoing suspended animation. Brent and Skipper's spacecraft is apparently not equipped for suspended animation, not like Taylor's, and the spacecraft from the third movie, the one which returns to Earth, as well as Colonel Alan Virdon's spacecraft also appear to not be set up for any type of suspended animation.
The NASA "Venturer" likewise has no facilities aboard to place the astronauts into suspended animation of any kind, and there is no hint at these facilities aboard Colonel Ronald Brent's mysterious spacecraft either.
In the Ubisoft video game "Planet of the Apes", we see that the NASA "Cassiopeia" is equipped with four cryogenic hibernation bays, and that once again, one of the bays fails and kills an astronaut as they journey through space. Again, automatic systems fail to awaken the other astronauts or alert them to the conditions of Martinez's capsule in time to save her.
On the thought of suspended animation and the apparent aging that takes place, one would think that if Taylor, Dodge, and Landon woke with full beards that they would also have awoken with vastly longer hair, looking somewhat like the members of the band ZZ Top. The rapid growth of facial hair without an equal amount of growth in the hair on their heads is puzzling. Especially since in the second movie, Brent and Skipper follow Taylor and his crew, yet neither astronaut has any beard or wild and unkempt look like Taylor and his fellow astronauts on the first flight. It should be noted that there is no hibernation process for Cornelius, Zira, or Milo, and none for Colonel Alan Virdon, Lieutenant Peter Burke, or Lieutenant Jones.
The whole hibernation part in the first movie shows a very distinct reference to the children's fairy tale "Rip Van Winkle", just as our first view of Stewart draws heavily from the fairy tales of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White", especially in reference to the glass coffin and where we see a beautiful princess under glass.
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