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  (Source: TriStar Pictures)
NASA already responded to the results, saying it will conduct studies of its own

Astronauts have the ability to see planets and other space-related beings in ways most of us never will, but new research shows that astronauts could potentially lose their vision completely by living out this profession.

The University of Texas Medical School at Houston recently performed tests on astronauts who had spent more than one month in space, and found that they had eyeball and brain tissue damage.

Texas researchers studied 27 astronauts who had participated in long-duration NASA missions. Out of the 27, nine had an expansion of the cerebral spinal fluid space surrounding the optic nerve; six of them had a flattening of the rear of the eyeball; four of them had a bulging of the optic nerve, and three of them had changes in their pituitary gland and its connection to the brain.

All of the astronauts studied spent an average of 108 days in space, either on a space shuttle mission or spending time on the International Space Station (ISS). The researchers found that the issues these astronauts have are similar to those caused by intracranial hypertension, where pressure in the brain presses against the eye sockets and skull.

"Microgravity-induced intracranial hypertension represents a hypothetical risk factor and a potential limitation to long-duration space travel," said Professor Larry Kramer, leader of the study at the University of Texas Medical School. "Consider the possible impact on proposed manned missions to Mars or even the concept of space tourism. Can risks be eventually mitigated? Can abnormalities detected be completely reversed?

"The next step is confirming the findings, defining causation and working towards a solution based on solid evidence."

The study has already grabbed NASA's attention. While no astronauts are being pulled from any programs at this point, the space agency plans to look further into these results.

"NASA has placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a comprehensive programme to study its mechanisms and implications, and will continue to closely monitor the situation," said William Tarver, head of flight medicine at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

If these results were proven true, it could throw a wrench in many space plans such as SpaceX's idea to develop a reusable launch system for cheap spaceflight and Mars settlement. There are also plans to send an astronaut to an asteroid by 2025 and another to Mars by 2030.

Sources: Phyorg.com, ABC News, The Pioneer



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RE: Well.
By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 10:02:10 AM , Rating: 2
I like your line of thinking. Next we need to quantify exactly how much gravity is needed to prevent this tissue and nerve damage. My gut tells me the Moons gravity should be enough to keep those fluids from building up and everything flowing to where it should be. But I'm not a doctor and that's just a guess, we really need to find out.

Of course at our rate I fear moon bases and long term space exploration will remain the stuff of science fiction lore for generations to come.


RE: Well.
By Kurz on 3/14/2012 10:09:34 AM , Rating: 2
We are just not built for space...
Genetic engineering maybe the only way for us to adapt to the harsh realities of space.


RE: Well.
By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 10:22:52 AM , Rating: 2
That's the great thing about humanity in it's current form. For the first time on Earth, a species has evolved to the point that they have the mental capacity and scientific understanding to bypass, or even affect, the evolutionary process.

We can shield ourselves from it's radiation. We can induce gravity through centrifugal rotation or other means. We WILL conquer space. That's what man does. We overcome, we adapt, we survive.


RE: Well.
By theapparition on 3/14/2012 1:01:13 PM , Rating: 4
But now we know exactly why all those space aliens have glass domes over their brains. Seems they've already conquered hypercranial tension.

Damn Martians were smart.


RE: Well.
By LSUJester on 3/14/2012 1:09:54 PM , Rating: 3
"We come in peace."

ZAP


RE: Well.
By JediJeb on 3/14/2012 2:14:10 PM , Rating: 3
If only they could fix the issue it causes when hearing Slim Whitman. :)


RE: Well.
By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 4:04:55 PM , Rating: 1
Ah ha! And that's why Grey aliens have those huge black eyes! They're immune to this tissue and nerve damage from evolution!


RE: Well.
By MrBlastman on 3/14/2012 11:01:08 AM , Rating: 2
You can't genetically engineer away the effects of gamma rays and x-rays on our bodies. At least, not without completely changing our chemical-based structures. If we do that, we might cease to be human. It'd probably be better at that point to use robot surrogates instead. We are who we are. I'm pretty sure there is life outside of Earth, however, that has completely different processes (and to us might not seem biological at all) that can withstand these things.

I scoff at us not being built for space. Our only problem is we haven't built what we need for space, yet. If man doesn't kill themselves off, we eventually will. The issue with that, though, is we're already in a horse race competing against that. Who makes it around the track first remains to be seen.


RE: Well.
By Kurz on 3/14/2012 11:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
You can engineer how our cells repair ourselves, how the various mechanisms need to be changed so its not so reliant on Gravity to function.

What causes cell death is usually the DNA getting damaged beyond repair. The most ancient and simple life has it figured out, just need to figure it out for complex organisms.

The added weight and energy required will be so high its not feasible I believe, It'll be a combination of both technology and genetics.


RE: Well.
By geddarkstorm on 3/14/2012 12:32:25 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, we could engineer extreme resistance to radiation of all forms, in theory.

Deinococcus radiodurans is a soil dwelling gram positive bacteria that can survive, without any apparent loss of colony virility and life, over 6 kGray (6000 Gray) of radiation. For reference, a human will die in 14 days if exposed to ~15 Gray of radiation, and a Neutron bomb air burst gives off ~1 kGray of radiation.

If we had a nuclear war that covered this whole planet, Deinococcus wouldn't even notice.

How does it do it? Through incredible repair mechanisms that use most of the features that are already in E. coli (which can survive up to 200 Gray of radiation). In fact, it seems mostly due to one double stranded DNA break repair protein that's key to its resistance. It also seems to hoard more Manganese than normal, which apparently protects proteins from ionizing damage, thus keeping the repair proteins alive to fix things up.

So, it is well within the realm of biology to give you the ability to survive space, and even the radiation of a nuclear blast. How do we port this to humans? Utterly unknown and no idea. The eukaryotic chromosomes are far more complex than prokaryotic. But that potential is there.

But if we could engineer this, we'd still be human, as it'd just be the addition of or a tweaking of a few of our repair enzymes and metal homeostatic transporters, nothing major. Still makes me squeamish to think of genetic engineering at all, as that's such a painfully slippery slope, and it's so easy to screw over genetics.


RE: Well.
By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 2:39:18 PM , Rating: 2
I vote we just develop energy shields ala Star Trek before we start monkeying around with genetic engineering. Ships and habitats will have to be shielded from radiation anyway, so I see no benefit in going to those extremes and hacking on our genomes.


RE: Well.
By geddarkstorm on 3/14/2012 3:45:41 PM , Rating: 2
I concur completely.

A magnetic shield like our planet would protect ionized cosmic rays. Then all you need is a double layered hull with a gamma/x-ray absorbent layer between, and voila, radiation shielded just as well as our planet, if not better (depending on technological wonders). The energy from the gamma/x-rays being absorbed could even be used to help run the magnetic shield dynamo.

Considering the low Gauss rating of our planet's magnetic field is below that of a weak refrigerator magnet, it shouldn't take that much power to make an equally strong field for a small space ship.


RE: Well.
By Kurz on 3/14/2012 6:03:33 PM , Rating: 2
Only issue is that the Magnetic field of the Earth is huge. Which allows the weak effect the magnetic field to displace that radiation slowly over a long stretch of space.

Though it would be interesting the see the energy required for the similar effect... Though I bet it is much higher than you think.


RE: Well.
By geddarkstorm on 3/15/2012 1:38:31 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, actually I misspoke. The Earth's magnetic field is only 0.25–0.65 gauss at the surface of the poles (where it's strongest), while a refridgerator magnet is around 100 gauss. The field at the core of the Earth hits about 50 gauss, which is why I was thinking of "weak refridgerator magnet". In truth, the field that protects us is vanishingly weak.

Remember, a space ship is not the size of Earth, nor does it need anywhere near the same size of field. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/08110... where it was demonstrated that a magnetic bubble of only a few 100 meters across would protect a ship from solar wind and cosmic rays, making a trip to Mars safe and possible (in that regard).

Also, simply increasing the immediate intensity would be enough and allow a smaller field. That is, a surface skin field of 50 gauss would deflect pretty much any cosmic rays. There in, the total power to generate the magnetic field is easily doable (I work with a 14.6 Tesla super magnet, or 146000 gauss. Being super conducting, it takes no energy to maintain, and certainly didn't take that much to energize in the first place), and with super conductors, would require NO constant input of energy, just an initial energization.

Magnetic shields are a piece of cake to make it appears, the problem is what they will do the ship and its electronics themselves, as it'll put strain on the whole vessel by pulling it inward or outward towards the source of magnetization. So, a ship would have to be designed with it in mind. Definitely something we could figure out, as we are already working on it.


RE: Well.
By JediJeb on 3/15/2012 4:11:16 PM , Rating: 2
One problem to overcome would be the effect of the poles of the magnetic field funneling the cosmic rays/solar wind inward, which is what causes the Norther Lights during periods of solar flares. You wouldn't want crew near the poles of the magnetic field for fear of blasting them with a beam of the very radiation you are trying to protect them from.


RE: Well.
By niva on 3/14/2012 6:56:36 PM , Rating: 2
We have not evolved properly to survive 0G for extended time in our current form. This doesn't mean that if you place humans in space for a lifetime that these creatures will experience the negative effects discussed in the article. Our heads expand, limbs and spine shrink, bone density goes down... this is only a problem if you're planning on coming down. The study does not go into how these symptoms affected the astronauts while in space.

If we ever get to a point where humans are born and live out their entire lifetime in space, they would probably look vastly different from what is considered normal now. The key is that our bodies adapt to the environment. This study shows an adaption which has negative consequences in the environment the astronauts returned to, but doesn't go into the actual impacts of these adaptations in space.


RE: Well.
By Amiga500 on 3/14/2012 11:14:34 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
But I'm not a doctor and that's just a guess, we really need to find out.


Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor!


RE: Well.
By Reclaimer77 on 3/14/2012 2:54:06 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Well.
By geddarkstorm on 3/14/2012 12:37:55 PM , Rating: 2
Microgravity is definitely better than no gravity, so I'd also hazard a guess that the Moon's gravity would be enough to avoid some of these major changes. The body just needs that constant resistance to keep its systems vigilant. Now, you'd still lose muscle and bone mass, but never has badly as a zero gravity environment (or free fall).

On the other hand, there are potential pharmaceuticals that can help, such as resveratrol which was shown to keep rats from losing bone or muscle mass (or having these other negative effects) when held in a microgravity simulation experiment (hanging from tail). So, all we need is to keep the body's triggers active for maintaining its physique; otherwise without a stimulus it begins to relax to conserve energy, and hence degrade.


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