In May 2011, astronauts Andrew Feustel and Mike Fincke were almost finished with running power cables from the U.S. side of the orbiting house to the Russian half of the International Space Station (ISS).
And then it happened.
Feustel got something in his eye while spacewalking for straight five (out of seven) hours outside the ISS.
Houston, eye’ve got a problem
‘Just as an FYI, my right eye is stinging like crazy right now. It’s watering a lot. Must have gotten something in it,’ Feustel said to his fellow astronaut.
‘Oh, sorry, buddy,’ Fincke replied knowingly.
Some of the anti-fogging solution from the inside of Feustel’s helmet had begun to drip off.
One of those particles, swirling in the modified space snow globe aka a spacesuit helmet, ended up precisely in his eye.
Which sucks either way, on Earth or on Saturn, especially if you know that space tears sting like hell.
Still, a pro like he is, Feustel somehow managed to reach the Valsalva device in his helmet. This spongy device attached to the bottom of the helmet is typically used to equalize the pressure in the astronaut’s ears (by performing the Valsalva maneuver) inside the suit without using hands to block the astronaut’s nose.
Feustel used the sponge to rub his eye.
And, it worked. A teary water ball has been absorbed by the Valsalva sponge.
This astronomy bit is a reminder of the fact that astronauts, technically, can’t cry in space. They certainly can have the urge for a nice cry — hello, astronauts are humans, after all.
But in zero gravity, the tears themselves can’t flow downward in the way they do on Earth.
The moisture generated has nowhere to go, they don’t fall out of your eye. They actually conglomerate around astronaut’s eyeball.
They sting and constantly hurt astronauts’ eyes on top of that, salty little demons.
So the fact is, in space, you don’t actually “cry”.
@dkiazyk Can you cry in space? Your eyes make tears but they stick as a liquid ball. In fact, they sting a bit. So – space tears don’t shed.— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) January 8, 2013
Gravity makes your tears go rogue on your eyeballs.
Which is pretty weird. Tears, in theory, shouldn’t hurt.
Tears should give you emotional relief, without causing additional pain. Even though, evolutionally, we don’t actually know the reason behind crying.
But what we know is that life in near-zero-gravity can have a particularly bad effect on human vision (and your bones). One explanation for that could be fluids shifting toward the head during long-term stays in microgravity.
It could be that space gives you a pretty wretched case of a dry eye — and that sudden moisture to the cornea, especially when it takes the form of “a liquid ball,” could sting rather than soothe.
Fortunately, those stinging tears are easily dealt with. An astronaut can just find something to wipe them away instantly.
Or let them fly around you like a teary space ballet making art out of astronaut’s pain <3