Feeds

NASA orders study for all astronauts over vision concerns

Fiddling with orbit might make you go blind

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA has ordered a baseline study for all of its future astronauts after research showed that exposure to zero gravity can cause eyesight distortion.

Scientists at the University of Texas Medical School used magnetic resonance imaging scans to look at the eyeballs and optic nerves of astronauts who'd spent an average of 108 days in orbit. In a third of cases, the optic nerve showed signs of compression from the vitreous fluid that surrounds it, decreasing blood supply and possibly causing permanent damage over time.

In addition, 22 per cent of those studied showed a flattening of the rear of the eyeball which, while useful for rectifying some imperfect vision, was damaging to those with normal eyesight. Over one in ten of those studied was found to have changes in the connection between the pituitary gland and the brain. The full research has been published in the journal Radiology.

Zero gravity distorts eyeballs

Orbital trips can compress your eyeballs

"This work has certainly has raised the level of concern at NASA," team member Larry Kramer, professor of diagnostic and interventional imaging, told The Register. "As a result of the study, before publication, we've had several meetings with NASA and now every astronaut is going to be checked."

He explained that the agency was determined to do a proper study to check this out. Astronauts will be scanned to establish baseline data, again just before launch, and then immediately on their return. There are also plans to get ultrasound equipment into orbit to perform in situ testing in the International Space Station.

"NASA has placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a comprehensive program to study its mechanisms and implications, and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Dr William Tarver, chief of flight medicine clinic at NASA/Johnson Space Center said in an emailed statement

The agency may have reason to be concerned. Because of the cost of sending humans out of the gravity well it makes sense to stretch mission times as long as possible, and a trip to another planet or asteroid could take over a year to get there and back. If these effects on the eyes are cumulative over time the crew may need an optician as a mission specialist, if a technical fix can't be found.

"Some of the astronauts were still seeing symptoms up to a year after landing," explained Dr Kramer. "Even so, they are keen to go up again every chance they get." ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.