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 1:06:26 PM
Perhaps it just means that the astronauts were not in space long enough to adapt to the environment. After leaving gravity, their bodies tried to work normally by pushing fuild to their heads. The reduced resistance leads to too high a pressure. After awhile their bodies might say "Wait a minute, there is too much pressure in the brain, its been this way for some time, perhaps I need to change the way things work", and they adapt.
On the other hand if someone has been in space for long enough for the cerebral fluid pressure to sort itself out. What might happen to them when they return to earth(for this discussion not considering all the other problems astronauts typically have)? What would happen to these people if they had a lower than normal cerebral fluid pressure for an extended time once they are back on earth (assuming it takes a similarly long period for them to adapt back to earth gravity)?
The article mostly talks about eye problems, but isn't increased intracranial pressure a cause of cognitive problems? Wikipedia lists a number of problems that result from excessive intracranial pressure.
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