Polaris Dawn is a planned private space mission, organized and operated by a private space exploration company SpaceX. Four astronauts will spend up to 5 days in space, performing various experiments and even the first private space walk.
People are highly interested in the Polaris Dawn mission, but they also have questions. For example, why do the eyes of mission’s astronauts look so weird in pictures?
Polaris Dawn is going to be an impressive achievement. For three out of four astronauts it is going to be their first space flight. Polaris Dawn will spend up to 5 days in space, reaching the highest Earth orbit ever flown by a crewed spacecraft with an initial apogee of 1400 km.
Astronauts will be quite busy in those days, performing 38 experiments and even coming out for a bit to partake in the first space walk using SpaceX-designed EVA spacesuits. They will also test Starlink for improved communications between spacecraft.
Polaris Dawn is meant to test the human ability to endeavor into longer and deeper missions into space. All of these experiments, spacewalks, communication tests and other activities are designed to gather information and iron out wrinkles in SpaceX’s plans to eventually set foot on Mars. And this is a good segue to those weird lenses that Polaris Dawn mission members can be seen wearing in some pictures.
In fact, these almost ring-light reflection-looking circles confused one Reddit user into thinking that pictures of astronauts have been altered. However, Anna Menon, one of the mission’s astronauts, who is also going to be a medical officer on board the Crew Dragon capsule, took it to Twitter to explain that it is a device that measures intraocular pressure through a contact lens.
Eye will be back…for research. Polaris Dawn will carry with us on our mission 38 experiments from 23 partner institutions, including this device that measures intraocular pressure through a contact lens. See https://t.co/VHKqpel7BB for more! pic.twitter.com/QBGqziW4Ij
— Anna Menon (@annawmenon) October 24, 2022
Looks weird and futuristic, but measurements of the intraocular pressure are absolutely important to make longer space missions possible. Fluids in our eyes circulate thanks to gravity. As there is no gravity in space, astronauts experience all kinds of unpleasant health effects, such as fluid gathering in the head, because there is nothing pulling them down. Vision gets affected as well.
During short missions, like on board the International Space Station, the risks are fairly limited. However, on long missions, such as going to Mars, it could be a serious problem.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said that lack of gravity changes fluid dynamics in the eyeballs, which causes swelling and can squeeze the optic nerve. Furthermore, even the shape of the eyeball is dependent on gravity and they can flatten a bit in space.
All of this needs to be researched before we embark on longer interplanetary trips. Hopefully, that little device will help make sure that astronauts arrive with their vision intact.