Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA ISS Medicine Space

Eye Problems From Space Affect At Least 21 NASA Astronauts 109

Posted by Soulskill
from the need-gravity-to-balance-eye-fusion dept.
SternisheFan sends this report from Universe Today: How does microgravity affect your health? One of the chief concerns of NASA astronauts these days is changes to eyesight. Some people come back from long-duration stays in space with what appears to be permanent changes, such as requiring glasses when previously they did not. And the numbers are interesting. A few months after NASA [said] 20% of astronauts may face this problem, a new study points out that 21 U.S. astronauts that have flown on the International Space Station for long flights (which tend to be five to six months) face visual problems. These include "hyperopic shift, scotoma and choroidal folds to cotton wool spots, optic nerve sheath distension, globe flattening and edema of the optic nerve," states the University of Houston, which is collaborating with NASA on a long-term study of astronauts while they're in orbit.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Eye Problems From Space Affect At Least 21 NASA Astronauts

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:17PM (#47768829)

    like they exhibit a spacey behavior or demeanor?

  • I know there are all kinds of chronic health problems that can emerge from extended stays in space - heart problems being the big one, since the heart doesn't like going from microgravity to Earth gravity abruptly. Yet, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot to be done about it unless we find a way to generate gravity in space. Has any research been done on mitigating the effects of space?

    • Artificial selection, maybe? Breed the astronauts who survive best in space?

      Or would that be just too eugenicsy?

      • Eugenicsy? Maybe. Too slow? Hell yes.

        • I'm sorry, but the very laws of physics suggest that if we're leaving this solar system, it's going to take generations anyways.

      • by cjjjer (530715)
        Breed the astronauts *in* space....
    • by Spy Handler (822350) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:36PM (#47769039) Homepage Journal

      aside from artificial gravity, nothing. No amount of exercise bike pedaling will save your optic nerves from being in zero G too long.

      There isn't really any good reason to put people in orbit for 6 months+. Rotate them out every couple of months. Yes we needed data on long-term microgravity effects on the human body. We have them now, zero G does bad things to your body. So don't do it for extended periods.

      Fly in the ointment is the expected trip to Mars, which will take 9 months to a year. Fortunately people like Zubrin have developed advanced technologies to deal with this. It's called a rope. Attach the Mars spacecraft to a ballast via a rope (they call it tether) and spin it until you get 1/3rd G. Problem solved.

      • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:45PM (#47769143)

        Wouldn't that be "problem 33% solved?"

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sillybilly (668960)

        It is easy to create artificial gravity by spinning a cylinder and walking on the inner surface, using the centrifugal force. Like your washing machine does it. However these health problems are not related to gravity. Health problems relating purely to gravity are all muscoskeletal - atrophy of muscles from nonuse, and deterioration of bones from not being needed much, lack of stress on them.
        The eye problems and heart problems come about from something else - intense cosmic rays. The space station is too f

        • By the way the caveman was living under most insulation from cosmic rays, if he lived in a low background radiation cave. But a lot of caves accumulate Radon gas in low lying areas, so it all depends on the surrounding rock. If it's all stalactites and stalagmites and ancient limestone deposits, like a lot of caves are, then background radiation should be very low, however if it's volcanic origin, then it should be high, as magma, volcanic eruptions, carry quite a bit of nuclear material compared to sedimen

        • Oh yeah, lack of gravity creates muscle atrophy and bone loss, just like lack of exercise, but cosmic rays also do both. So it's hard to decompose how much of it is due to radiation and how much due to lack of use, as the two are probably additive. However when it comes to optic-nerve sheath degradation, that has nothing to do with gravity, and it's all radiation.

        • Sometimes I know I'm going over my allowed dose of radiation when my vision gets blurry, and then it's time to sink my head into a radiation protecting zone, to recuperate.

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        aside from artificial gravity, nothing. No amount of exercise bike pedaling will save your optic nerves from being in zero G too long.

        There isn't really any good reason to put people in orbit for 6 months+. Rotate them out every couple of months. Yes we needed data on long-term microgravity effects on the human body. We have them now, zero G does bad things to your body. So don't do it for extended periods.

        Fly in the ointment is the expected trip to Mars, which will take 9 months to a year. Fortunately people like Zubrin have developed advanced technologies to deal with this. It's called a rope. Attach the Mars spacecraft to a ballast via a rope (they call it tether) and spin it until you get 1/3rd G. Problem solved.

        How do you know that 1/3G will solve the problem without testing it on human subjects?

    • Yet, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot to be done about it unless we find a way to generate gravity in space.

      Just spin the space station. The centripetal force can substitute for gravity. This doesn't work for small space craft, because the different forces on the head and feet will cause nausea. It is also a problem for people doing outside repairs, because any untethered tools or components will fly away. But for a large space station, such as an O'Neill Cylinder [wikipedia.org], or multi-generational starship, spinning should work fine.

      • by schweini (607711)
        Wouldn't it be easier to just have a capsule and a counterweight on a long rope of sorts, and spin/orbit it around an axle that is on the spaceship?
        Why hasn't this been done yet? It would seem to me to be almost energy-neutral, since you would only have to compensate for the friction on the axle, once you get the capsules spining?
        • Wouldn't it be easier to just have a capsule and a counterweight on a long rope of sorts, and spin/orbit it around an axle that is on the spaceship? Why hasn't this been done yet?

          It hasn't been done for a number of reasons:
          1. Micro-gravity isn't that big of a deal. If a handful of astronauts need glasses, that isn't a major problem.
          2. Lots of experiments on the ISS require micro-gravity.
          3. It makes docking more difficult.
          4. Spacewalks to do repairs and maintenance are more difficult.

          • by countach (534280)

            Yes, the whole point of sending folks into the space station is to do experiments in microgravity. Otherwise, might as well stay home and watch TV.

          • by wierd_w (1375923)

            This is why the obvious solution is to compartmentalize the artificial gravity habitats:

            You have a single, exterior shell, which does NOT rotate. This allows spacewalks without all those nasty issues.

            Inside this shell, you have several cylendrical habitats that counter-rotate. The combined rotational force is a net zero, which is why the exterior shell does not rotate.

            (Simplest configuration-- One long cylendar, with two cylendars inside. One of these rotates clockwise, the other counter clockwise. The long

      • Spin the current space station and you'll have a whole bunch of shiny chunks of metal flying away from each other, and no atmosphere inside.

        The present design isn't made to withstand even 1/3g loading - maybe a new space station design could handle it, but not the one we've got.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only real solution is artificial gravity. The human body is not designed to operate for extended periods in a weightless environment. Remember those "spinning wheel" satellites from scifi movies, such as 2001? That concept is not new, but may be necessary if humans are to spend extended periods in space without serious consequences.

    • Some speculations... The US RDA for vitamin D is about 10X too low for adults, so likely all astronauts in the space station have been deficient, which could contribute to bone loss and some other health effects. Also, living in a liquid environment might help mitigate loss of muscle tone by creating muscle-strengthening resistance as astronauts swim in the liquid the same way dolphins stay fit floating essentially weightlessly in water. (Granted, it might not be identical to living in a G-field.) A resista

  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:23PM (#47768917)
    bone density plummets, muscles atrophy, eyes degenerate. Are we telling this to kids that go to space camp? Being an astronaut is as bad if not worse for your health as playing in the NFL. Of course, i find the former more interesting to follow from the comfort of my armchair.
    • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:56PM (#47769255)
      From CBCnews, Mar 13, 2012:

      Astronauts have complained for decades about vision problems such as blurriness following trips into space. A recent NASA survey of 300 astronauts found correctible near and distance vision problems in 48 per cent of astronauts who had been on extended missions and 23 per cent of those who had been on brief missions. In some cases, they lasted for years after the astronauts returned to Earth.

      Fluid shifting toward head causes problems

      In the new study, the astronauts had spent an average of 108 days in space. Their eye abnormalities were similar to those seen in patients on Earth with idiopathic intracranial hypertension. Patients with the condition have increased pressure around their brains for no apparent reason.

      Among the astronauts in the study:

      33 per cent had expansion of the space filled with cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain.

      22 per cent had flattening of the rear of the eyeball.

      15 per cent had bulging of the optic nerve.

      11 per cent had changes in the pituitary gland and its connection to the brain.

      An earlier NASA-sponsored study of seven astronauts, published last November in the journal Ophthalmology, found similar abnormalities and also noted that they were similar to those experienced by patients on Earth suffering from pressure in the head. But it noted that astronauts did not experience symptoms usually associated with that problem on Earth, such as chronic headache, double vision or ringing in the ears.

      The earlier study suggested that the problems might be caused by fluid shifting toward the head during extended periods of time in microgravity. This could result in abnormal flow of spinal fluid around the optic nerve, changes in blood flow in the vessels at the back of the eye, or chronic low pressure within the eye, the researchers said.

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/technol... [www.cbc.ca]

      • Thanks for one of those rare, massively informative and to the point posts.

        If you consider that zero-g is an environment that is utterly alien to us, which we have zero adaptation for, I'm actually surprised how relatively well homo sapiens is able to cope with it.

        If you compare it to other alien environments, like too much or too little pressure, too much or too little Oxygen, too cold or too hot... usually these great differences from our natural environment are very quick to kill us.

        • Yep, it seems that zero-gravity is not going to adapt to us. We'll need spacecraft that can spin us up to a permanent near artificial earth gravity environment, or we're not going to get very far into the future of space colonization, excepting robotically.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      so we just add this to the list of genetic/bionic improvements we need to implement in the Spacer subspecies.

  • Why should they be immune to what's happening to the rest of us?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Clearly, all the sci-fi books and movies from the 1960s showed that The Species (tm) *must* colonize the universe and get off this rock.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    'nuff said.

  • Not enough (Score:5, Funny)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:34PM (#47769025)

    Not enough hot green alien ladies to make first contact with yet, I surmise is the root cause of this problem.

  • Obviously... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Type44Q (1233630) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @04:40PM (#47769083)

    Obviously orbital habitats either need to be spun-up or contain living quarters located within centerfuges.

  • by TomRC (231027) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:13PM (#47769425)

    We've long known what will likely avoid these sorts of problems - create a rotating environment to simulate gravity.
    While the physics principle is simple, engineering a safe rotating station is probably quite challenging.
    The sort of thing NASA was created to investigate...

    • Another thing which I have not seen discussed is the mutation of the biota that humans carry into outer space.

      We put these microbes in zero gravity, far higher background cosmic radiatio & occassional Solar storm radiation.

      It will not surprise me that they mutate as a result and I certainly don't have an idea how fast or what those mutations might do.

    • You need a big radius, otherwise you'll get a "Gravitron" effect (an amusement park ride)... fluid in the inner ear spins in funny ways, much worse for motion sickness than zero G.

      An idea posted above, a big rope with a counterweight (or maybe two sides of the station, attached by a tether), could do it, but docking will become.... challenging (and we know what happened to Challenger.)

    • by dryeo (100693)

      We already have lots of experience building things to stand up to one gee, a suspension bridge for example can be extended until its ends meet and its cables can be attached to the opposite point. The important thing is having light strong cables.
      What is really needed is some information on just how much gravity we need. I'd guess we'd do fine with Venuses 90% but what about 50% or Mars with its 33%?
      Seems that fetus development would also be dependent on close to normal gravity.

  • But surely the goggles do something.

  • In order to travel into the heavens as the various ancient mystics told us?
  • by deathcloset (626704) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @05:39PM (#47769645) Journal
    This is an unintuitive wild speculation, but I wonder if these effects are a linear function of the gravity or if there is a more complex interaction.
    In other words, if Alice spent 6 monts in zero-G and Bob spent 6 months in 0.166-G, and assuming equal eye health, would Bob have less damage than Alice or more?

    Obviously the human body emerged out of a 1-G environment, so the eye has evolved with those pressures. But just because removing those pressures completely may result in harm, that is not to say that removing those pressures partially would be harmful.

    The only non-zero-G astronauts I know of were the Apollo folks - but I can't find any information (or anectdotes from them) on the difference in physiological effects of zero-g versus 1/6th-G.

    It seems like they would have experienced less intercranial pressure and would have had an actual reference for up and down.

    Oh space be a harsh mistress.
    • Apollo was short duration, those guys were running on so much adrenaline that any findings about zero G / low G were masked by the novelty, danger and excitement of it all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bthecohen (3802317)
      You hit the nail on the head: this is perhaps the most fundamental unanswered question in life support for space exploration. We simply have no idea.

      Originally, the ISS was slated to have a module called the Centrifuge Accommodations Module. [wikipedia.org] It was intended to help answer this question. It contained a large centrifuge that could hold 2-foot-tall animal cages and simulate anywhere from zero to 2g. It would have been one of the most essential experiments on the station, because there is really no way to co
  • Pursued by the strivers and the authoritarians.

  • Eye Problems From Space Affect At Least 21 NASA Astronauts

    Oh noes! All of the future Space Pirates are now in serious trouble!

    Captain: Arrr, ye matys! Let's board that tiny hauler thair before they knows what hit them. Ther'll be treasure enough for us all!
    Crewmember 1: Arrr, ey, capt'in!
    (Captain runs to the gangway in order to board the other ship.) "Open port -- board and attaaaack!"
    Crewmember 2: Ey ey, capt'in!
    Crewmember 1: But Capt'in! Ey -- my ey! I can't see the controls to dock us! (Door slides open. Entire problem shortly solved.)

    Thus, G [forbes.com]

  • My wearing glasses is proof I was abducted by aliens, right?

  • That's it. I'm definitely not going into space.

    NASA, please take my name off the list. I've changed my mind.

    • That's it. I'm definitely not going into space.

      NASA, please take my name off the list. I've changed my mind.

      Dammit Pope, now you tell us! And we had the "Welcome Aboard!" party all set up for you. :^(

      Signed, NASA

  • without surgery!

  • It's a great first step for NASA, now if they can further admit that those astronauts have also come back with weird shifts in rectal geometry, we can begin to face, as a species, the deeper space facts of life.
  • Astronauts tend to be proud of their eyesight... like Chuck Yeager:
    http://www.achievement.org/aut... [achievement.org]

    From the early days of test pilots and the original Right Stuff astronauts they've typically had much better than 20/20 eyesight.
    So it's probably easy to detect this sort of thing, and they might be a little ticked off to loose it :^O
    Of course a lot of people would go to space even if they went blind... most of us risked that in Junior High School anyway!

  • Imagine a world where we've got people living their whole lives, or something close to it, in space. Over time the people who are least affected by these kinds of problems would presumably have an evolutionary advantage. Long term, a whole new race of humans adapted to life in space develops.
  • seriously, making a spinning station can't be _that_ hard.

  • Better launch systems and faster engines might help. The less time in microgravity, the less damage.(?) That fact we use chemical rockets to get into space and maneuver seems kind of antique.

Wasn't there something about a PASCAL programmer knowing the value of everything and the Wirth of nothing?

Working...