Astronauts Found to Have Eye Issues After Long-Term Space Trips
March 14, 2012 9:16 AM
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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
, 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
. There are also plans to send an astronaut to an asteroid by 2025 and another to
Mars by 2030
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3/14/2012 12:37:55 PM
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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