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ISS Mars Space Science

Vision Problems For Some Returning Astronauts 203

Posted by Soulskill
from the blame-the-ether dept.
astroengine writes "A newly discovered affliction has some doctors wondering if astronauts traveling to Mars could have problems with their eyesight by the time they got there. About one-third of U.S. crew members aboard the ISS return with impaired vision, one case of which was permanent. The reason for the late discovery of this mysterious affliction is the reluctance of astronauts on active service to come forward — the risk of being grounded after complaining of blurry vision is considered too great."
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Vision Problems For Some Returning Astronauts

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  • by said213 (72685) on Friday September 23, 2011 @10:58AM (#37491744)
  • One of many? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoTerrified (660807) on Friday September 23, 2011 @10:58AM (#37491754)

    I wonder how many other minor 'afflictions' from space travel are ignored/explained away that we haven't heard about for the exact same fear of being grounded...

    • by mdm-adph (1030332) <mdmadph AT gmail DOT com> on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:03AM (#37491858) Homepage

      Like Space Herpes, for one.

    • Re:One of many? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by instagib (879544) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:12AM (#37492006)

      ... which would be unprofessional and probably reckless behaviour on behalf of the astronauts. One can understand the emotional reasons, but the huge efforts made for their safety would be in vain if they are not honest about their capabilities.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah but this isn't just a career, this is going into space. It's more exclusive than being a movie star. Once you're in that club, I bet you'd do anything to stay in.

      • Re:One of many? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Shadowmist (57488) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:51AM (#37492586)

        ... which would be unprofessional and probably reckless behaviour on behalf of the astronauts. One can understand the emotional reasons, but the huge efforts made for their safety would be in vain if they are not honest about their capabilities.

        That's all nice and logical from the armchair, but take it from their point of view. They're Air Force pilots, who've spent years, maybe decades to get tht shot. Knowing that Deke Slayton was grounded for the better part of a decade for a minor heart flutter, you're simply not going to take the chance if you think it's not stopping you from doing your job. That's part of "Right Stuff" mentality. The very kind of personality you recruit for the job tends to foster that kind of disposition. It would be very interesting to get the Russian data on this... they're the endurance bears when it comes to long stays in space.

        • It would be very interesting to get the Russian data on this... they're the endurance bears when it comes to long stays in space.

          That presumes the Russians have the data... In general, they weren't really diligent about biomedical protocols and record keeping.

        • Re:One of many? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Surt (22457) on Friday September 23, 2011 @01:17PM (#37493710) Homepage Journal

          Exactly why you should just devise tests for every required physical capacity, and administer them before every launch. The cost would be trivial compared to the cost of the launch.

        • Re:One of many? (Score:5, Informative)

          by rjune (123157) on Friday September 23, 2011 @02:24PM (#37494516)

          As a retired Navigator (17 years in KC-135's (A/E/R) I think that this post is absolutely correct on the mindset of flyers. They don't want be sick and go DNIF (Duties, Not Including Flying-- Grounded) and the schedulers sure don't want you off flying status. If you were grounded, once you got back on flying status, there was punishment in terms extra duty and crappy flights. I flew when I probably shouldn't have, but most everybody did. Maybe more information will come out now the shuttle program is over.

        • ...if you think it's not stopping you from doing your job.

          That is the exact problem right there (emphasis mine). The whole point of vision tests and minimum requirements is to decide if an astronaut's vision would keep them from doing their job. And the people developing and administering the tests are far better qualified to determine that than an emotionally-biased astronaut who is directly and strongly affected by the outcome.

      • Re:One of many? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:52AM (#37492596)
        ... which would be unprofessional and probably reckless behaviour on behalf of the astronauts. One can understand the emotional reasons, but the huge efforts made for their safety would be in vain if they are not honest about their capabilities.

        This is pretty normal among regular air force and navy aircrew.
        If you have to go see the flight surgeon, there are two outcomes. 1. remain on flight status, or 2. get removed from flight status. There is no 'up'. Hell...one of the Shuttle crew had Parkinsons [discovery.com] when he went up for the last time.
      • by Shadowmist (57488)

        ... which would be unprofessional and probably reckless behaviour on behalf of the astronauts. One can understand the emotional reasons, but the huge efforts made for their safety would be in vain if they are not honest about their capabilities.

        It would be nice to be able to separate out the emotional component. However the last time I checked, American Astronauts are not imported from the Planet Vulcan.

      • It's such a competitive field, I'll bet that the ones that tend to be honest about their true capabilities never even make it into the program in the first place.

    • by Alomex (148003)

      Apparently, from recent conversations with former astronauts, the vibrations at take off during Mercury/Gemini/Apollo were extremely uncomfortable, yet all astronauts reported only "minor rattling" least they be considered wimps.

    • by clickety6 (141178)

      I wonder how many other minor 'afflictions' from space travel are ignored/explained away that we haven't heard about for the exact same fear of being grounded...

      Have you never seen the Quatermass Experiment? ;)

    • by dissy (172727)

      I wonder how many other minor 'afflictions' from space travel are ignored/explained away that we haven't heard about for the exact same fear of being grounded...

      I can't say much about the afflictions not reported, but as to the other minor afflictions that happen from space travel which NASA knows about (about as in their existence, not necessarily a full understanding) are:
      - Changes to sense of balance, as the brain gets used to the new signals from the inner ear resulting from microgravity,
      - Lower blood pressure as the heart has to work less, which can become a problem back on earth at 1G,
      - Bone and muscle deterioration, as well as muscle scaffolding rearrangemen

  • This is just another of the long list of maladies associated with weightlessness. Artificial gravity is going to be a must for long term stays in space.
    • Could this possibly be a mix of weightlessness affecting the eye muscles, and a lack of distance focal points to focus the eye on during the stay in space? Because you basically have "anything inside the ISS", "any external part of the ISS you can see", "the earth" and "infinity", while on earth you have a huge range between local and distance - perhaps its a lack of exercising the distance focusing?

      • by hedwards (940851)

        That's definitely a possibility and one that's a known risk for people that spend too much time on their computer.

      • by foobsr (693224)

        lack of exercising the distance

        My guess is that the breakdown of the relations within the feedback loop 'body movement' - 'perceivable outcome' may contribute a great deal to the condition.

        CC.

      • Could this possibly be a mix of weightlessness affecting the eye muscles, and a lack of distance focal points to focus the eye on during the stay in space?

        As to the latter, the answer is almost certainly no. Otherwise, it would have shown up on submarine crewmen (especially SSBN crew) decades ago. Anyhow, if you read TFA, the problem is believed to be related to swelling in/adjacent to the optic nerve, not muscular.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mdm-adph (1030332)

      We'll get right on that -- do you want it before or after we make the FTL drive?

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        Artificial gravity doesn't have to be Star Trek style. Even just a large spinning ring could provide 1G for the duration of the flight. There is no such low tech solution for FTL. Of course the spinning ring produces it's own problems.

  • by koniu (2468724) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:16AM (#37492078)
    I guess it does get pretty lonely up there
  • ... stop looking at it! Give your eyes a rest!

  • The eye is not all that mysterious in my mind. It's a liquid filled ball with a lens and a light sensitive surface. The focus of the lens is managed muscles which contract based on need for focus. But since this is a liquid filled ball, various other forces work against the eye such as gravity and atmospheric pressure.

    I'm willing to bet that the cause of the problems have a great deal to do with changes in gravity and air pressure. To me this seems like an obvious thing which should have been considered

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday September 23, 2011 @11:59AM (#37492686) Journal
    to send the astronauts on a one-way mission to mars. The idea of bringing them back is irresponsible. The reason is that we can send a mission to mars in less then 6 months. HOWEVER, returning them is a whole different matter. It will be at least a year. As such the better solution is to send the crew to Mars for at least 10 years, or possibly life.

    There are other good reasons to make at least the first couple of trips be one-way. It allows the sending group to focus on keeping a crew alive. That is actually cheaper than coming up with a return vehicle and the fuel for it. By sending one-way, it gives them time to build a base out while doing research on the planet.
    • by rubycodez (864176) on Friday September 23, 2011 @12:12PM (#37492870)
      We can have the astronauts in a 1G field for most of the trip, extend a boom with counterbalance and spin the ship with large radius. We can send fuel for return trip by automated ship very quickly, at much less cost than sending humans. The astronauts can spend some dual-pod centrifuge time in pairs on mars doing exercises, so they can have strength to be back in earth's 1G field. Such a centrifuge could be made to fold very compactly, using mostly two astronauts weight to counterbalance each other, and a sliding part to equalize any difference in their weights.
      • Costs are the first thing that comes to mind. The next is that from the POV of earth's safety, it is better to send ppl there for 5-10 years and look for biological contamination. However, as I wrote down below, just about anybody that would go to Mars for a 4 year trip, will have little issues with staying 5-10 years, or longer.

        Look, we can send a crew there QUICKLY via chemicals. We have the infrastructure for it. What we really need is a NERVA engine on a tug to push a BA unit or two, to get us to Mars
    • by Jeng (926980) on Friday September 23, 2011 @12:20PM (#37492964)

      That is actually cheaper than coming up with a return vehicle and the fuel for it. By sending one-way, it gives them time to build a base out while doing research on the planet.

      For efficiencies sake it would be best to have it built before humans land. The base will not be just for shelter, it will be for oxygen, electricity, and food production also.

      Besides that the astronauts would require shelter while building their shelter the amount of food and supplies necessary to keep the astronauts alive while they built their habitat would exceed the cost of building a base with robots before they got there.

    • by Syberz (1170343) on Friday September 23, 2011 @01:43PM (#37494050) Homepage

      As long as there's a hot astronaut co-scientist with me, I'd be willing to make the one-way trip.

      • Well, I have news for you. After 6 months and knowing that it will be just 4 of you , the ugliest gal will look HOT. Besides, there are more important things then looks. They will fade.
  • by Dunbal (464142) *

    The reason for the late discovery of this mysterious affliction is the reluctance of astronauts on active service to come forward

    Highly relevant in the absence of a manned space program. Also it sums it up pretty well: I want to have millions of government dollars spent on me to train me, house me and feed me, but I would rather pass up a chance at actually doing the job I am supposed to do even though it's likely I will never get a chance to do it again, because 1 out of 3 (less than half) of my colleagues have had eye problems. Yep, that's "the right stuff" right there. Now tell me again why is it you wanted to be an astronaut?

    No

  • I stopped reading after "They're desire is to get back into space, so they are not complainers." OK not really, but still kind of a kick in the nuts to see that in a professionally written article...
  • The pool of American astronauts who this may apply to is small, but there's a number of Russians who've been in orbit for long periods.

  • More knowledgable professionals have probably already asked this, but I'm still curious: how closely does the air mixture and atmospheric pressure on the ISS match typical earth conditions?
     
    Eyes breath.

  • well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xaoslaad (590527) on Friday September 23, 2011 @12:48PM (#37493332)
    As someone who grew up wanting to be a Marine I can tell you I was willing to do anything to get in. When I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease I thought I was done; I had surgey at 15 and had a few section of my intestines removed; 12 inches, 8 inches, and 4 inches. Funny thing was after that I didn't really need meds anymore; not at all actually. Having gone into remission save for almost daily abdominal discomfort or pain, probably because I eat any damn thing I want even though I probably shouldn't.

    I walked into recruiting stations over and over again; sometimes years apart until I found a recruiter with an immense tolerance for bullshit. Wouldn't you know it that with enough visits to doctors, MEPS, paperwork going up to Navy BUMED, and everything else I was able to get in. Waiver for Crohn's, waiver for my eyes since they're also complete crap, and moral waiver for being a naughty juvenile on one occassion. They make waivers for everything

    Queue four years of active duty service; rank of Sergeant, Good Conduct Medal, NAM, etc., etc. I probably wasn't so much your most likely candidate for success in such an environment and was told lots of times buy lots of people that I couldn't. You're too sick. You're too smart. You're too weak. You can't listen to people telling you what to do...

    So, some things to take away from my story:
    1.) Fuck everyone who tells you you can't do something.
    2.) Everyone is imperfect; make what you can of your lot.
    3.) A lot of the general rules in our system just don't work in side cases (like say Crohn's being a permanent disqualifier from military service.)
    4.) That's why there's a waiver for everything.
    5.) Fuck everyone who tells you you can't do something.

    Having been through all that though I can DEFINITELY understand where they are coming from; it is infuriating beyond words to be told you can't do something you know you are full well capable of. I could shoot, I could run, I could do the MOS that was assigned to me (went in open contract), I could swim, and I could do anything else that was asked of me. And I did. When I got out I had a job with a high tech company I am sure everyone here is familiar with as a System Administrator before I even finished my terminal leave and used the G.I. Bill to get my college degree as well.

    Some people just don't want to make excuses. They don't want to be a statistic. They don't want to be one of the numbers. They don't want to have one of the myriad bullshit mental conditions 99% of America can be diagnosed with if they just see a doctor so that they can give up lay down and profess that they were willing but unable because of the lot they got in life. They don't want to go around for the rest of their life saying, I tried to join X branch of the military but couldn't because they had flat feet. Not everyone wants to be a charity case if you can believe it. Some of us want to earn our keep and make something of our selves. It is the idea that our country was born on. It's the idea that is lost and will be the cause of this countries demise as well. I feel for these people immensely when their vision starts to go and they have to deal with the possibility of some flight surgeon screwing with them.

    Words to live by: Nothing. Will. Ever. Stop. Me.
    • Re:well... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Skreems (598317) on Friday September 23, 2011 @02:01PM (#37494258) Homepage
      In this case, where there are literally tens of people who will actually get to go, it's egotistical as hell to demand that YOU be the one who gets to go, when if you hadn't lied they may have chosen someone more qualified. Who knows what past or future catastrophe could have been prevented if someone who was ACTUALLY as good as you think you are had been in the driver's seat? (I'm talking only about the NASA scenario, not your Marine story)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Trying your best, pulling your weight, and being persistent to do something you want to do is a hell of a lot different that jeopardizing your life and the lives of your crew because you want to go into space again. The difference between your story (which I commend, it is very inspirational) and theirs, is they selfishly risking the lives of others.

      • And you think a Marine that's not fully physically cable isn't jeopardizing the lives of his squadmates in combat?

  • Going to Mars on chemical rockets is never going to work very well. That's a job that needs nuclear power. That was known back in the 1950s. The US and the USSR both had major nuclear rocket development efforts in the 1950s in the 1970s.

    With nuclear rockets, a trip to Mars should take about a month.

  • ...into space. We have a thousand years, two thousand, ten if we like.

    Send few humans and many probes. Our supporting, non-space-exploration tech will progress too.

  • I always wondered how "Noisy" Rhysling lost his sight.
  • By the time the U.S. OK's another Mars mission those astronauts are going to be in their 80's.

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