NASA aims tubes at astronaut's eyes

Does this just-released image from NASA document the first cybernaut or is it something far more sinister (or way more innocuous)? The simplest problems can have complicated solutions in space.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

"I think there's something in my eye." NASA
I always knew NASA was working on part-man, part-machine cybernauts to pilot missions to Mars and beyond. Now I have proof!

Oh, um, what's that? He's not a cybernaut? He's just a regular astronaut trying out an eyewash device in Houston? Drat!

Well, you have to admit that this photo of European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst certainly does raise some eyebrows (most of all, his). It's designed to help with a pesky problem that most little kids never think about when they dream of rocketing into space -- getting a speck of dust in your eyes.

In the zero-gravity environment of the International Space Station, where Gerst will be heading on May 28 for a six-month mission, the ordinary annoyances of Earth can become big problems. According to the European Space Agency, which published this image, it's hard to get something uncomfortable out of your eye up there because you can't simply rinse it under running water, or even splash water on your face from a cupped hand.

For one, there's no running tap water on the ISS. And secondly, if there were, that stream of water would just float away like a silvery snake.

So engineers have come up with these goggles, worn here by Gerst at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which rinse the eyes with an eyewash solution and then drain it away. It might look and sound pretty uncomfortable, but the ESA reports that Gerst assures us, "It does not feel weird, but on the contrary it is good to know that we have these items onboard."

Hmmm. That's exactly what I'd expect a cybernaut to say!