NASA study of cataract in astronauts (NASCA). Report 1: Cross-sectional study of the relationship of exposure to space radiation and risk of lens opacity

Leo T. Chylack, Leif E. Peterson, Alan H. Feiveson, Mary L. Wear, F. Keith Manuel, William H. Tung, Dale S. Hardy, Lisa J. Marak, Francis A. Cucinotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


The NASA Study of Cataract in Astronauts (NASCA) is a 5-year longitudinal study of the effect of space radiation exposure on the severity/progression of nuclear, cortical and posterior subcapsular (PSC) lens opacities. Here we report on baseline data that will be used over the course of the longitudinal study. Participants include 171 consenting astronauts who flew at least one mission in space and a comparison group made up of three components: (a) 53 astronauts who had not flown in space, (b) 95 military aircrew personnel, and (c) 99 non-aircrew ground-based comparison subjects. Continuous measures of nuclear, cortical and PSC lens opacities were derived from Nidek EAS 1000 digitized images. Age, demographics, general health, nutritional intake and solar ocular exposure were measured at baseline. Astronauts who flew at least one mission were matched to comparison subjects using propensity scores based on demographic characteristics and medical history stratified by gender and smoking (ever/never). The cross-sectional data for matched subjects were analyzed by fitting customized non-normal regression models to examine the effect of space radiation on each measure of opacity. The variability and median of cortical cataracts were significantly higher for exposed astronauts than for nonexposed astronauts and comparison subjects with similar ages (P = 0.015). Galactic cosmic space radiation (GCR) may be linked to increased PSC area (P = 0.056) and the number of PSC centers (P = 0.095). Within the astronaut group, PSC size was greater in subjects with higher space radiation doses (P = 0.016). No association was found between space radiation and nuclear cataracts. Cross-sectional data analysis revealed a small deleterious effect of space radiation for cortical cataracts and possibly for PSC cataracts. These results suggest increased cataract risks at smaller radiation doses than have been reported previously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-20
Number of pages11
JournalRadiation Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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