The history of cheating death: A timeline of cryonics

The important steps humanity has taken towards extending life span and cheating death.

1940s

French biologist Jean Rostand studies how extremely low temperatures affect the properties of materials and living things – now known as cryogenics.

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1962

Inspired by Rostand’s work and science fiction, a physics teacher and war veteran called Robert Ettinger publishes The Prospect Of Immortality, proposing that humans could be frozen and awoken in the future.

1965

As societies and companies dedicated to life extension start to form across the US, the term ‘cryonics’ is coined for the movement started by Ettinger.

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1967

Prof James Bedford is the first person to be frozen. In 1991, when removed from storage to be evaluated, his body is found to be preserved but damaged, with discoloured skin and “frozen blood issuing from his mouth and nose”.

The aluminum cryo-capsule containing mylar-wrapped body, designed by wigmaker Edward Hope to store frozen body of James Bedford © Getty Images
The aluminum cryo-capsule containing mylar-wrapped body, designed by wigmaker Edward Hope to store frozen body of James Bedford © Getty Images

1979

Nine supposedly frozen patients are found decomposing in the ‘Chatsworth crypt’ in Los Angeles.

In the 1960s and 1970s, cryonics pioneers struggle to maintain the temperature of their frozen patients. Bedford is the only person frozen in this era who remains frozen today.

1980s

Cryonics companies start freezing people’s heads but not their bodies (known as ‘neuros’), based on the idea that our brains could be transplanted, supported by machines or uploaded to computers in the future.

A bionic man human model stands on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC © Getty Images
A bionic man human model stands on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC © Getty Images

1999

The first baby is born from eggs that have been frozen.

Freezing embryos, sperm and other bodily tissue soon becomes a routine part of medicine © Getty Images
Freezing embryos, sperm and other bodily tissue soon becomes a routine part of medicine © Getty Images

2002/03

The first whole organ, a kidney, is successfully vitrified (turned into a glass-like state), thawed, and re-transplanted back into a rabbit, where it appears to function normally.

2015

Experiments appear to show that microscopic worms can survive cryogenic freezing and retain memories from events that took place before they were frozen.

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This concept shows how Timeship might look. The inner region is used for liquid nitrogen storage. The eight square- shaped structures house hundreds of frozen patients
This concept shows how Timeship might look. The inner region is used for liquid nitrogen storage. The eight square-shaped structures house hundreds of frozen patients © Timeship

2016

The Timeship project, headed up by Stephen Valentine, announces plans to store thousands of patients at a purpose-built facility in Texas. There are thought to be around 250 people currently cryogenically frozen in the world.