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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3/15/2012 1:38:31 PM
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
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.
3/15/2012 4:11:16 PM
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.
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