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 6:49:20 PM
A sustained 1G burn to Mars would get us there in days... Obviously somewhere halfway through you'll have to turn this around and start breaking at a sustained 1G, but what I'm trying to say is that right now with our technology this is not feasible at all.
Assuming 9.8 m/s^2 acceleration within a day (86400 seconds) starting from 0 velocity you would have traveled well over 300k km.
At a sustained acceleration of 1G at the end of 1 day you're moving at ~8000 km/s which is faster than any human has moved up to this point in history that we know of relative to the position of our planet.
We have no such energy source available in space right now, to accelerate a massive spacecraft filled with people, so that we could produce such long term acceleration.
So 1G acceleration is ludicrous to talk about at this stage. Artificial gravity is also ludicrous because we cannot yet build such big structures in space that would make this possible unless we stop all wars and dedicate ourselves towards conquering our solar system at least.
3/15/2012 12:56:48 AM
fuel is an issue, though...
The information is in the details. I choose my words carefully and deliberately so it is easy to overlook things I say. ;)
This gets back to my first point--beta blockers and blood pressure medication. It might just work as a holdover to better solutions.
3/15/2012 4:04:35 PM
I have been on beta blockers in the past and am on blood pressure medicine currently, and not all of them would relieve this problem. Beta blockers work by controlling heart rate, which probably would not fix the problem mentioned in the article. Also the article talks about hypertension within the brain cavity, not the entire circulatory system. This problem arises from the fact that in a weightless environment the body's internal fluids tend to flow up into the upper body. Think of how sitting for long periods no earth can cause swelling in the feet and legs, in space it is the opposite effect, your chest and head "swells" or fill with fluid. To remedy the problem we need to find a way to keep things like lymphatic fluids and blood lower in the body under weightless conditions. I'm not sure we have drugs yet that can accomplish this.
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