Dr. Larry Kramer of the University of Texas Health Science Center, along with a team of other scientists, are exploring the peculiar health issues that astronauts experience in microgravity.
A wide range of scientific roadblocks, from issues of physics and space travel to the severe, long-term effects of zero gravity and microgravity, continue to baffle scientists and engineers alike, who are tasked with leading space exploration into a new generation of achievement. A recent, wide-ranging research effort, however, has helped to better identify the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity, with a University of Texas Health Science Center researcher contributing a key report on Visual Impairment and Intracranial Pressure caused by microgravitational conditions.
According to The Independent, the effects of Visual Impairment and Intracranial Pressure experienced by astronauts on the International Space Station, which include flattening of the eyeball, folds in the tissue behind the retina, and excess fluid around the optic nerve, have been put into better focus by Dr. Larry Kramer of the University of Texas Health Science Center in a recent research document:
” . . . in a study of 27 astronauts, 15-50% of them displayed probable ICP-related symptoms that could potentially lead to vision impairment as serious as blindness. Also of note is that the definition of “long term flight duration” used in the study was not six months, but a mere 30 days of cumulative exposure to microgravity.
The findings are not dissimilar from another major health issues associated with space travel: the rapid loss of bone density experienced by astronauts in prolonged microgravity conditions. Adding to this condition the compounded issues of spinal fluid increasing around astronauts’ optic nerves, the condition of blood flowing away from the heart, and muscle deterioration, NASA as well as other private-funded space enterprises have as much to deal with in solving the biological limitations of space travel as they do the mechanical ones.
And there’s more:
In addition, increased exposure to cosmic and solar radiation, space sickness, possible fainting during re-entry, confused circadian rhythms due to 90-minute days, exposure to toxins, and the psychological stress of living in space and working in a high-risk extreme environment are all factors that astronauts must accept.
All of these roadblocks contribute to a larger issue at hand, which is to ensure that the proposed manned missions to mars (both from NASA and private ventures), have audacious time schedules which are not that far off. Considering that astronauts will remain in microgravity for months on end before reaching the Red Planet, engineers will have to prove that humans can make these next giant leaps for mankind along with the technology that will take them to Mars and beyond.