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New high-tech sleeping bag to solve vision issues in space

When in space, astronauts can suffer from problems in vision as these fluids push and reshape the back of the eyeball.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
Updated: December 13, 2021 5:34:53 pm
The sleeping bag has a solid frame, shaped like a space capsule, and fits over a person from the waist down. (Credits: UT Southwestern Medical Center)

Researchers from the University of Texas have designed a new vacuum-equipped sleeping bag that can pull down body fluids that naturally flowed into our heads while sleeping in a supine position. When in space, astronauts can suffer from problems in vision as these fluids push and reshape the back of the eyeball.

The new study published last week in JAMA Ophthalmology found that three days of lying flat in a simulated microgravity environment induced enough pressure to slightly alter the shape of the eyeball but no such change was seen when the new suction technology was used.

“We don’t know how bad the effects might be on a longer flight, like a two-year Mars operation,” said one of the authors Benjamin Levine in a release. He is a cardiologist who is helping NASA address the health risks of brain pressure and abnormal blood flow in space.

“It would be a disaster if astronauts had such severe impairments that they couldn’t see what they’re doing and it compromised the mission.”

Last year NASA said that astronaut Michael Barratt who flew a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station suffered from Space-Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS). The symptoms include swelling in the optic disc, which is where the optic nerve enters the retina, and flattening of the eye shape.

Steve Laurie, a scientist with NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate said that signs of SANS appear in roughly 70 per cent of crew members.

The sleeping bag has a solid frame, shaped like a space capsule, and fits over a person from the waist down. The study included ten volunteers including one of the authors Dr James Leidner. He is an internal medicine hospitalist in San Antonio.

The volunteers spent three days sleeping eight hours in a research room and three days in sleeping bags for eight hours. The team then compared the changes in the brain after each stint.

The researchers add that several questions need to be answered before NASA brings this technology to the space station, including the optimal amount of time astronauts should spend in the sleeping bag each day.

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