CLEAR LAKE — Imagine going into space and not being able to enjoy the view.
“We have discovered that some astronauts on orbit have real changes in fluid shifts in their bodies and that leads them to
have changes in their vision and changes in pressure in the central nervous system,” said Julie Robinson, an International Space Station program scientist. “About 20 percent of the astronauts who have flown to the International Space Station have reported vision changes.”
Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk was one of them. He went to the space station in 2007.
“After a few weeks aboard, I noticed that my visual acuity had changed,” he said. “My distant vision was not too bad, but I found that it was more difficult to read procedures. I also had trouble manually focusing cameras, so I would ask a crewmate to verify my focus setting on critical experiments.”
In an effort to better understand why astronauts have endured vision problems, when the Expedition 35 crew goes onboard the space station, it will take part in a study that might provide some answers.
“We’re going to take detailed measurements (of their eyes) to really try to understand this process for the first time,” Robinson said.
The information could be useful on Earth, too.
“This is a process that was not predicted from what we know on Earth,” Robinson said. “What we are seeing in astronauts on orbit could help us understand cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and other aspects that affect people on Earth who are not quite as healthy as our astronauts.”
Expedition 35 is scheduled to begin March 15 and last until May 14.
The crew will consist of Commander Chris Hadfield and flight engineers Pavel Vinogradov, Alexander Misurkin, Chris Cassidy, Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn.
The crew will be performing more than 130 experiments and investigations while onboard.
Another health-related experiment is the Human Microbiome Project, which will study the effects of microgravity on bacteria.
“Studies have shown us that bacteria count for 10 times more cells in our bodies than our own cells, so we are outnumbered 10 to 1,” Robinson said.
In the experiment, samples will be taken from crew members before, during and after their mission, and the ISS environment will also be tested.
“This research will help us predict how long-term space travel affects humans and the microbes we take with us,” Robinson said.