Immediately after decades of collecting information about how astronauts’ vision is impacted by spaceflight, scientists have identified a set of microgravity-induced adjustments to the human eye recognized as Spaceflight-Related Neuro-Ocular Syndrome, or SANS. This situation is viewed as a threat to human wellness in lengthy-duration spaceflight. 

Later this year, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will hurl the Polaris Dawn mission of 4 crew members skyward for a privately-backed voyage of up to 5 days in Earth orbit. Through their keep time circuiting our planet in a Crew Dragon capsule, the higher-flying group is dedicating key time to probe wellness impacts on the physique from their sojourn into space.

1 of their health-related tasks is precise to assist unravel what is behind SANS symptoms. It is a recognized, unknown concern, say researchers, a malady that contains swelling of the optic nerve, alteration in the shape of the eye itself, as nicely causing fuzziness to vision. Clearly, on any lengthy trek to Mars and back, getting “blindsided” by blurry eyesight from SANS is not perfect.

Associated: Polaris Dawn: The trailblazing industrial mission of the Polaris System

Ongoing investigation

As for its lead to, SANS is tied to the absence of gravity’s effects on the physique, causing a fluid shift that can produce stress adjustments in the brain and eye. This fluid shift is believed to be the fundamental lead to of the eye and brain structural adjustments. But identifying the precise why and when SANS crops up — and what countermeasures can be applied — is prompting ongoing investigation.

Creating it all the extra perplexing, NASA says that indicators of SANS seems in roughly 70 % of Earth orbiting astronauts, but with substantial person variability.

All round, clarity more than vision troubles in space has come a lengthy way considering that the February 1962 flight of Mercury astronaut John Glenn. That initially 3-orbit spaceflight by an American had Glenn dutifully monitoring his vision by reading an eye chart to see if his eyeballs could possibly adjust and alter his vision.

Small was recognized concerning vision in Earth orbit when Mercury astronaut, John Glenn, circuited the Earth in 1962. He gauged his visual status by reading an eye chart mounted on the instrument panel of his single-seat capsule. (Image credit: Dane Penland/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Applied with permission))

Cyborg study

Allie Anderson is a top SANS investigator in the College of Engineering &amp Applied Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has been functioning with the Polaris Dawn crew to assist examine the timing of spaceflight-induced adjustments to the human eye by way of continuous monitoring of intraocular stress, the stress inside the eyeball.

Anderson’s study requires a Sensimed-developed “Triggerfish” speak to lens that has an embedded strain gauge to measure how the cornea adjustments shape more than time. The speak to lens includes a tiny antenna to transmit its information and will discover how the front aspect of the eye adjustments with microgravity exposure. The Polaris Dawn crew calls it “the cyborg study.”

In addition, Anderson’s SANS investigation has the crew working with a device constructed by PlenOptika — a transportable, handheld autorefractor — to measure how a person’s corrective eyewear prescription adjustments though in spaceflight.

Savannah Buchner of the Bioastronautics Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder demonstrates use of the Transportable, handheld QuickSee autorefractor that can measure how a person’s prescription adjustments in microgravity. (Image credit: CU Bioastronautics Lab)

Validate technologies

“Applying each of these devices, we want a improved understanding of the time course for how the eye adapts in microgravity,” Anderson told “For lengthy-duration astronauts, they had been receiving structural adjustments, like flattening of the eye that resulted in a shift in their vision, as nicely as swelling at the optic nerve head. It wasn’t totally clear why that was taking place.”

1 other aim of the SANS perform is to validate low mass, low energy technologies for space missions. “We want to get as a lot information as doable and to acquire measurements as early in flight as doable,” Anderson mentioned. “It is a great chance for individuals in the neighborhood to collaborate and share information and hopefully contribute to understanding the trouble,” she mentioned.

Anderson underscored NASA’s tackling of SANS. “They are undertaking a ton of perform to settle on what the definition of getting SANS is and how to grade the severity of it,” she mentioned. “It is an fascinating challenge to get your head about, that is for certain.”

A NASA infographic explaining Spaceflight-Related Neuro-Ocular Syndrome, or SANS. (Image credit: NASA)

Earth rewards

With astronauts projected to take longer and longer space trips in the future, SANS countermeasures is a essential subsequent step, mentioned Prem Subramanian, a professor of ophthalmology, neurology, and neurosurgery at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers University of Colorado Eye Center in Aurora, Colorado. 

Perform is progressing on attempting to figure out what is causing SANS and connected spaceflight-brought on eye adjustments, but extra investigation is important. 

Theories primarily based on what is getting observed could be entirely wide of the mark, Subramanian advised. A improved understanding of the forces that lead to SANS is vital to direct the improvement of SANS countermeasures, he added. 

“We have to figure out how to lower the incidence of the trouble, almost certainly ahead of we even completely comprehend what is causing it,” Subramanian told “The inability to genuinely recreate it right here in a terrestrial atmosphere is a key barrier. We’ve got models, but the models are not terrific and they are restricted.”

In addition to the interest provided to SANS as a space traveler’s dilemma, there are also notable rewards from this investigation for the gravity-bonded majority of us right here on Earth.

“There are terrestrial illnesses that lead to optic nerve swelling and vision loss,” Subramanian added. “A improved understanding of how to treat this situation will boost our understanding of issues that come about back right here on Earth … these individuals who create equivalent improved intracranial stress issues, say from trauma or a illness, or from a wide variety of other issues,” he concluded.

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By Editor

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