Fairchild Airman makes his mark on space travel

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Janelle Patiño
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Working for NASA can be a life changing experience, but discovering a new syndrome affecting astronauts working in space is out of this world.

Lt. Col. Richard Rubin, who is now a 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight surgeon, was working with the ophthalmology branch at the Aeromedical Consultation Service, School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, in 2006 when he was recommended by his boss to work with NASA due to his expertise.

“My boss called me and asked me to examine a NASA astronaut who returned from a six-month international space station mission,” Rubin said. “He ended up having a swollen optic nerve.”

An examination and a series of scans and tests led to the discovery of a new diagnosis. The astronaut had a vision impairment and intracranial pressure syndrome, which is the effect of long-term exposure to microgravity on the structure of the eye.

“I considered all my theories on what the possible causes to the symptoms were and I was comprehensive,” he added. “I spent months trying to figure out what the cause was, ending in the discovery of a syndrome that many astronauts were experiencing.”

The Maryland native ended up presenting his findings to NASA and was invited to speak in front of many professional scientists as the first person to discover the syndrome.

Months later, NASA reached out to him two additional times, requiring expertise only he possessed. They contacted him between 2006 and 2009 asking for his professional opinion.

“The second astronaut I saw was Michael Lopez-Alegria, the American record holder for time in space,” Rubin said.

Following his examination of Lopez-Alegria, NASA contacted him for another astronaut. Rubin assisted with giving recommendations and treatment techniques.

“This astronaut was on the international space station, so the first option was for them to perform the examination there,” he said. “I provided guidance on various techniques for them to perform, which saved them a trip back to Earth.”

Due to Rubin’s assistance, NASA didn’t have to interrupt the mission for an emergency evacuation of the astronaut back to earth, which saved the space agency almost $20 million.

Rubin felt a great swell of happiness and satisfaction from having worked for NASA and having them personally contact him for help.

“Just being able to meet the astronauts was cool enough, and the fact that I was able to discover something was even better,” Rubin added. “I loved it. I loved every second of it. When you’re an expert and having your knowledge utilized for something that’s important means a lot.”