LATAH COUNTY, Idaho --- The University of Idaho is researching the negative effects of space travel on the eyes and brains of astronauts.
Astronauts have to be able to see where they are going and what they are doing. So researchers from the U of I are studying the effects of space travel on human vision.
Spending over half a year is not easy on your body, or your mind, it turns out that by the time some astronauts get back to Earth they have vision problems.
“They have optic nerve head distention. They have something called cotton wool spots. They’re kind of like partially blind areas,” said UI research assistant professor, Bryn Martin.
Martin and her team are trying to find the cause of this phenomena.
“We really don’t understand why. Some astronauts have these problems and some don’t,” said Martin.
They have some NASA grants to help fund the research. They also have access to the MRI’s of astronauts from before and after they are in space.
“It’s definitely super cool to have this data, because it’s very rare,” said UI grad student, Jesse Rohr.
Looking at the changes in the eyes could provide clues as to how space travel affects vision in some astronauts. NASA hopes to get people to Mars one day, and it would be sad to potentially have astronauts arrive on the red planet in the dark.
“The idea then is if you take a year or even two years to go to Mars, then during that time, you have a bunch of damage to your eye and get to Mars and might be totally blind,” said Rohr.
Martin’s research hopes to be able to predict which astronauts are more vulnerable to eye damage, or perhaps develop some kind of therapy in space that can ease the problem.
“To have a chance to actually affect people’s lives in your research is really valuable. I think the students get a lot out of that also,” said Martin.
Martin hopes that one day this research might translate to solving vision issues down here on Earth.