The final frontier: eye care in space

31 October 2019
Acuity digital

Kathy Oxtoby considers the effects on the eye during space flight.

A journey into space is currently just the preserve of a small group of astronauts – but commercial space flights are looking increasingly likely in the next five to 10 years. The implications for optometry might at first seem as distant as Mars itself, but NASA has recognised for some time that space flight affects vision and causes structural change to eyes – including the flattening of the posterior globe, and changes to the optic nerve and retina (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2013). Dealing with this remains a top priority for the NASA space medicine research team.

The problem was identified even longer ago – John Glenn, the first American to orbit the moon in 1962, carried in his capsule a pair of vision-sharpening “space anticipation” glasses, which had a stronger prescription than normal. The International Space Station (ISS) now provides astronauts with adjustable-focus glasses that eliminate the need for bi-and tri-focal lenses. These Superfocus glasses have a conventional lens at the front, a flexible lens at the back and a dial to focus (Warren, 2011). 

Sign in to continue

Forgotten password?

Not already a member of The College?

Start enjoying the benefits of College membership today. Take a look at what the College can offer you and view our membership categories and rates.

Related further reading

This year's National Eye Health Week will take place from 18 to 24 September 2023, promoting the importance of good eye health and the need for regular sight tests for all.

The Cochrane systematic review consisted of 17 randomised controlled trials that recruited 619 people.

This article describes sleep and its regulation, and the specific contribution of the eye.