Here’s how a new sleeping bag could safeguard astronauts’ vision

A new sleeping bag could avert eyesight challenges on extensive room missions. The creation aims to reduce tension that builds up guiding the eyes through very long periods of very low gravity. Astronauts expertise this microgravity in house.

The high-tech snooze sack appears like a big sugar cone and covers only the reduce half of the overall body. The concept for it arrived from a procedure experts use to analyze blood stress, notes Christopher Hearon. He’s a physiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Professional medical Centre in Dallas. He and some others described their new invention in JAMA Ophthalmology on December 9, 2021.

The sleeping bag’s layout aims to avoid a thing acknowledged as SANS. That stands for spaceflight-affiliated neuro-ocular syndrome. On Earth, gravity pulls fluids in the system down into the legs. But without the need of the pull of Earth’s gravity, too substantially fluid stays in the head and upper physique.

This excess fluid “presses on the back of the eye” and modifications its form, explains Andrew Lee. He was not part of this examine. As a neuro-ophthalmologist (Op-thuh-MOL-uh-gist), he’s a medical physician who discounts with the nerves in the eye. He is effective at Houston Methodist Clinic and at a new Weill Cornell Health-related College software. Both of those are in Texas.

“You get a lot more much-sighted,” Lee explains. The tension also triggers a portion of the eye’s optic nerve to swell. “Folds can type in the again of the eye as perfectly. And the extent of the consequences depends on how extended people shell out in microgravity. “The a lot more time people today spend in room, the a lot more fluid stays in the head,” Lee suggests. “So a very long-length house flight — like 15 months — could be a dilemma.” (That period of time is how very long it would consider to get to Mars.) Lee and some others explained SANS in npj Microgravity in 2020.

And here’s where by Hearon and his crew enter the story. Previously scientific studies on blood stress employed strategies that sucked out air to make unfavorable stress all over the lessen human body, Hearon claims. Some groups experienced tried using to harness that idea to reduce SANS. But they ran into challenges, Hearon notes. So his group decided try out an strategy that would treat astronauts when they weren’t operating. Which is why bedtime appeared great.

a photo of two male astronauts doing eye exams while floating inside the International Space Station
NASA astronauts Terry Virts (base) and Scott Kelly (major) worked on eye examinations on the International Area Station in 2015. Prolonged periods in microgravity can just take a toll on astronauts’ vision. NASA

Their innovation

The workforce realized that tucking an individual into a typical sleeping bag and sucking out air would not operate. At some position the bag would collapse and push in opposition to the legs. That would backfire, pushing much more fluid into the head. “You genuinely require to have a chamber,” says Steve Nagode. He’s a mechanical and innovation engineer in Kent, Wash. He started operating with Hearon’s crew when he was with REI, a sporting-items business.

The sleeping bag’s cone will get its construction from rings and rods. Its outer shell is heavy vinyl, like that employed on inflatable kayaks. The seal all over the sleeper’s waistline is adapted from a kayaker’s skirt. (The snug match retains h2o out of a kayak.) And a system like a tractor seat retains an astronaut from staying sucked in way too much when the device’s low-electricity vacuum is on. “You really feel like you’re receiving sucked into the sleeping sack a little little bit,” admits Hearon. “Otherwise, it feels really usual once you get settled in.”

His group analyzed a prototype with a tiny team of volunteers on Earth. “We had 10 subjects who every done two bouts of 72 several hours of bed relaxation,” he points out. At the very least two months divided each individual 3-day examination period of time. Except for brief bathroom breaks, the volunteers stayed flat. Earlier investigation had revealed that was sufficient time to trigger fluid shifts like these astronauts would expertise.

a photo of a male astronaut holding a measuring device while floating in the International Space Station
European Room Company astronaut Tim Peake worked on the Intercontinental Space Station in 2016. He’s holding a system that steps the force of fluid in the skull. Microgravity can increase that force and degrade eyesight. Tim Peake/NASA

The volunteers used the a few times in one particular check session laying generally in mattress. They stayed on the exact bed for three times in the other test session. But their reduced human body was in the sleeping sack for eight several hours each and every evening. During every check period, professional medical personnel calculated coronary heart premiums and other points.

They measured blood tension, for occasion, as blood fills the heart. Identified as central venous pressure, this CVP is substantial when there is a great deal of blood in the upper overall body, as takes place in house. CVP also went up when people stayed flat. But it arrived down at night time when the snooze sack was on. That “confirms that we were being pulling blood down to the legs, absent from the coronary heart and head,” Hearon says.

People’s eyeballs also confirmed very small alterations in condition when they stayed flat on the 3 times that they did not use the system. Condition alterations like all those are an early indication of SANS. The alterations have been significantly scaled-down when men and women used the unit. 

Lee at Weill Cornell and Houston Methodist suggests he hopes the structure would protect against SANS in microgravity, but “It could possibly not. We do not know simply because we have not analyzed it in space.” He also wonders about doable facet outcomes from for a longer period-phrase use. It’s just one point to reverse adjustments in fluid tension, Lee suggests. “It’s yet another matter to do it securely.”

Hearon and his team agree more testing is desired. “Missions are likely to be considerably longer than a few days,” he notes. Long run get the job done also will investigate how very long the unit should operate to give the finest results.

Nagode may perhaps also attract on his abilities from coming up with backpacking gear to make foreseeable future tweaks. The team could want to make the cone condition collapsible, for example. Following all, he says, “Anything going up into room has to be light-weight and compact.”

Research co-authors James Leidner and Benjamin Levine speak about a significant-tech snooze sack for place vacation that could assist avoid vision complications on lengthy missions.
Credit rating: UT Southwestern Clinical Center

This is a single in a sequence presenting news on engineering and innovation, produced probable with generous guidance from the Lemelson Foundation.