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Aerospace Optometry How aerospace optometry blends with cutting-edge eyewear technology

Interview with Dr. C. Robert Gibson

Aerospace optometrist Dr. C. Robert Gibson has provided services to NASA in Houston for more than twenty years. He offers eye care services within the Flight Medicine optometric clinic at Johnson Space Center and is the author of multiple research articles and book chapters concentrating on the effects of space travel on the human eye.

Silhouette Titan Minimal Art has been to space since 2000. Why do you recommend this frame for space travel?

Silhouette frames are thin, lightweight, and highly durable. The absence of screws in this eyewear design further reduces risk to the crew members from product failure.

Do astronauts have any particular style preferences when selecting eyewear? Are there any color considerations that are important in space?

Astronauts customize their frames for various tasks including launch / landing, ISS operations, and EVAs (editor’s note: Extravehicular activity, referring to activities performed by astronauts outside their spacecraft or space station). Since astronauts wear multiple pairs of glasses with different prescriptions, the glasses are usually color-coded so they can tell them apart.

How important is perfect vision in space?

Good vision is extremely important for astronauts in the visually demanding environment of space flight. Critical tasks such as docking a vehicle with the ISS, performing robotic operations on the International Space Station, or an EVA require excellent vision where there is no margin for error.

What differences exist between ocular issues in space compared to terrestrial challenges, and what factors contribute to them?

Visual and ocular anatomical changes have been documented in astronauts during and after long-duration space flight. A constellation of neuroophthalmic changes including optic disc edema, choroidal folds, globe flattening, and hyperopic refractive error shifts is known as space-flight associated neuroocular syndrome (SANS).

Is a person’s ametropia the same in space as it is on earth measured in diopters?

Approximately 20% of astronauts experience a farsighted / hyperopic shift in space due to globe flattening. They are often given multiple prescriptions (also known as space anticipation glasses) with incremental increases in plus power in the event they experience a hyperopic refractive shift during a mission.

What fascinates you more: space or the biology of the human eye?

After 23 years of collaboration with NASA, I continue to be fascinated by space and its impact on the human eye.