Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ocular Health Study

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly assists Japanese astronaut 
Kimya Yui with the Ocular Health study. 
Photo Credit: NASA
It has been a few weeks since the last "experiment of the week," so it is about time for another one. This week, it's the Ocular Health study.

There are hundreds of experiments ongoing on the International Space Station. One of the most prominent is the Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews. The main goal is to gather data on crew members' visual health during and after long-duration space station mission.

In space, fluids in the body shift toward the head. On Earth, gravity pulls fluids down, so the heart and other muscles have to work harder to push fluid up. In space, the muscles work just has hard, so the body's fluid distribution is altered. This is why astronauts typically have "fat heads" and "chicken legs" while floating in the space station.

Some astronauts have noticed their vision blur slightly while on longer space mission. It is believed this is due to extra intracranial pressure from the upward fluid shift pushing on the eye. I can be so bad, that some astronauts wear special "space glasses" after a while.
A close up of the device used to gather eye data. 
Photo Credit: NASA

The investigation looks at who is most effected by the change and how long it persists after crews return to Earth. It is possible, that prolonged pressure could permanently damage vision, and even cause blindness.

Data is still being gathered, but NASA wants to solve this problem before astronauts and cosmonauts head off to deep space destinations, such as Mars. Nobody wants astronauts on Mars to go blind in the middle of a flight.

Additionally, it is hoped that research into this problem will help with terrestrial eye problems, such as glaucoma.

For more information, NASA has a fact sheet HERE.

Video courtesy of NASA