NASA / AP
This image provided shows NASA's "Voyage to Mars," a project to send humans to the red planet in the 2030s.
By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Saturday, December 2, 2017 | 2 am
To go where no one has gone before, you need to see where you are going.
Research conducted on the International Space Station shows that prolonged space weather can cause temporary, and sometimes permanent, blindness, said the chief space station scientist recently at "Nevada Newsmakers."
"One of the things we discovered in the last 10 years is that some astronauts, when they enter space, actually have vision loss," said Julie Robinson, the ISS chief scientist. "Some of those astronauts have a permanent loss of vision that does not reverse when they return to Earth."
Vision loss is emerging as a major problem that will be resolved if man ever lands on Mars, said Robinson, an UNR graduate. The potential blindness appears to derive from how the badociated fluids in the body react in prolonged weightlessness, he said.
"It's a disease process that we've never seen on Earth," Robinson said. "It's completely new to science, and we're really trying to understand it so that one day we can send humans safely to Mars and get them to carry out the mission successfully."
The problem may surprise some and has not been well publicized due to concerns about the medical privacy of astronauts, he said.
"We generally do not report individuals alone, so you would not hear it in that kind of media because we protect your medical privacy," Robinson said.
However, it's a problem that scientists have been working to resolve for years, Robinson said. The potential for vision loss in zero-gravity environments was not discovered early in manned space missions because astronauts' short trips did not trigger the disease, he said.
Julie A. Robinson, chief scientist of the International Space Station
"It was about five years ago that we reported for the first time the pattern we have seen" , He said. "It took me a while to see that pattern, humans have been flying in space for a long time, but we missed the pattern, first because humans were going for a short period of time and second, we thought, & # 39; Oh, they're just getting old & # 39; "
At first, scientists thought it was a minor problem, but not anymore.
"We thought it was reversible," Robinson said. "We just did not realize it was a real problem until we started having enough experience in the space station, since it does not happen at all."
"We had some crew members who returned home with a loss of vision so important that people realized that it was not normal, "Robinson said." And then we started looking at those, doing additional images, some spinal contacts in astronauts, and we discovered that they had really high spinal pressures and we realized that that there was something happening here that really mattered. "
In the Russian area of the A space station, a US ultrasound and a Russian device are being used to find a solution Robinson said the Russian device is "essentially a pair of sucking pants that can carry the fluids back to their legs for a short period of time.
"We use US ultrasound to see your fluids moving through your body, through your veins as they happen and then we use special devices to measure your eyes and try to understand what is happening in this process "
In addition to "space blindness," other health problems, exposure to radiation and protection from radiation are among the problems that must be resolved before humans venture to Mars, he said.
"In the next 30 years, (a mission to Mars) is absolutely realistic," Robinson said. "If someone gave me a rocket to Mars today, I would not be ready to send the crew with him because we still would not have enough knowledge of the space station and other tests to be able to operate."  Ray Hagar is a retired political journalist for the Reno Gazette-Journal and current columnist and journalist for the Nevada Newsmakers podcast and website, nevadanewsmakers.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at @RayHagarNV.