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NASA’s sleeping bag for long-duration missions

NASA tests a high-tech sleeping bag for long-duration space missions. It is designed to solve health problems derived from life in weightlessness

The sleeping bag designed by NASA solves one of the major health problems of space exploration in long-duration missions

The volunteer in the photograph is called James Leidner and, to test the hyper-technological sleeping bag that NASA has developed, he spent three nights inside.

The sleeping bag exerts a sophisticated pressure system on the sleeping body. It draws in fluids from the lower body, legs, and feet, and releases them from the brain.

NASA hopes that astronauts will be able to use the sack in space to alleviate the vision problems they often suffer during very long missions.

For 72 hours straight, the study volunteer lay on a bed at UT Southwestern Medical Center. At night the researchers placed the lower part of his body in a sealed sleeping bag equipped to create a vacuum inside. Under these conditions, it exerts pressure to attract body fluids that would naturally flow towards the head while the astronaut is in the supine position. .

New research published in JAMA Ophthalmology shows that by sucking up these fluids and relieving pressure on the brain, the specially designed sleeping bag can prevent vision problems astronauts experience in space , where fluids float in the head and continually push and reshape the back of the eyeball.

This remains one of the biggest health dilemmas in human space exploration. But findings from UT Southwestern, NASA’s chosen medical center to test the sleeping bag, suggest they have found a solution.

Two years on Mars

Long-term stays in microgravity often cause eye damage in astronauts, which would foreseeably be very serious on long-duration missions.

“We don’t know what the consequences of a two-year mission to Mars could be,” says Benjamin Levine, MD, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern who is helping NASA address the health risks of blood and brain pressure. in the space. “It would be a disaster if the astronauts had such severe disabilities that they couldn’t see what they were doing and that compromised the mission.”

Remodeling the eyeballs

NASA hopes that the sleeping bag can address a disorder called spaceflight neuroocular syndrome, or SANS. The condition is characterized by progressive flattening of the eyeball, inflammation of the optic nerve, and impaired vision.

SANS is not a problem on Earth, where gravity pulls fluids down into the body, releasing pressure inside the brain, every time a person gets out of bed.

In space, the lack of gravity prevents this daily discharge process, and the consequence is that large amounts of body fluids accumulate in the head and exert pressure on the eyeball.

NASA has documented vision problems in more than half of the astronauts who stayed for at least six months on the International Space Station. Some had reading difficulties and sometimes needed crewmates to help with the experiments.

Interior de un ojo

Body fluids in zero gravity apply constant pressure behind the eyes, causing progressive flattening of the eyeball, inflammation of the optic nerve, and impaired vision. Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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