Becoming an astronaut requires perfect 20/20 Vision, but unfortunately the effects of space can lead astronauts to use. return to earth deteriorated eyesight. Now, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a sleeping bag that could prevent or reduce these problems by effectively sucking fluid from the astronauts’ heads.
More than half of NASA astronauts who have flown to the International Space Station (ISS) for more than six months have developed vision problems to varying degrees. In one case, astronaut John Philips returned in 2005 from a six-month stay on the ISS with vision reduced from 20/20 to 20/100 BBC reported.
This could, for example, become an issue on journeys to Mars lasting several years. “It would be a disaster if astronauts were impaired so badly that they couldn’t see what they were doing, and that would affect the mission,” said lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Levine the BBC.
Liquids collect in your head when you sleep, but on Earth, gravity pulls it back into your body when you stand up. However, in the low gravity of space, more than half a gallon of fluid collects in the head. This, in turn, puts pressure on the eyeball, causing a flattening that can lead to impaired vision – a disorder known as space-associated neuro-ocular syndrome, or SANS. (Dr. Levine discovered SANS by flying cancer patients aboard zero-G parabolic flights. They still had connections in their heads for chemotherapy, which gave researchers an access point to measure the pressure in their brains.)
To combat SANS, researchers worked with outdoor equipment maker REI to develop a sleeping bag that fits around the waist and hugs the lower body. Then a vacuum cleaner-like suction device is activated, sucking liquid in the direction of the feet and preventing it from building up in the head.
About a dozen people volunteered to test the technology, and the results were positive. Before NASA brings the technology aboard the ISS, a few questions need to be answered, including the optimal amount of time astronauts should spend in their sleeping bags each day. You also need to determine whether every astronaut should be using one or just those at risk of developing a SANS.
Still, Dr. Levine that SANS will no longer be a problem when NASA is ready to go to Mars. “This is perhaps one of the most business-critical medical problems discovered for the space program in the last decade,” he said in a statement.
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