The STS-90 crew aboard Shuttle Columbia -- Commander Rick Searfoss, Pilot Scott Altman, Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan, Kay Hire and Dave Williams along with Payload Specialists Jay Buckey and Jim Pawelczyk - will begin their first full day of on-orbit operations when they are awakened later this morning just before 8 a.m. Central as Neurolab research activities get into full swing.
The Neurolab studies of the human nervous system include a total of 26 individual experiments, involving both the crew members and crickets, fish and rodents onboard the shuttle. The experiments include studies of blood pressure, balance, coordination and sleep patterns, and they all have the potential to benefit researchers on Earth studying a variety of illnesses that can affect these functions. They also provide valuable insight into the basic operation of the nervous system, the most complex and least well-known part of the human body. In space, understanding the effects of weightlessness on astronauts is crucial to prepare for long stays.
Following an on-time launch yesterday afternoon and a "go" for on orbit operations, Linnehan, commander of the science activities on the flight, and Williams, a Canadian astronaut, entered the laboratory in the shuttle's cargo bay to begin research work. The first experiments took place shortly afterward as payload specialist Buckey began an evaluation of the effects of weightlessness on eye-hand coordination. Buckey donned a special glove and attempted to track pinpoints of light moving through different patterns in a special facility. Williams, Pawelczyk and Linnehan will also perform the evaluation. Sessions in the experiment will be repeated midway through the mission and at the end of the flight to gauge the effects of the body's adaptation to weightlessness.
Hire activated the Bioreactor Demonstration Experiment, an investigation that grows cell tissue cultures in weightlessness. The device, making its fourth shuttle flight, has the capability to grow more perfect tissue samples in weightlessness than can be achieved on Earth. Cell samples in the bioreactor experiment aboard Columbia include renal tissue and bone marrow, both samples being evaluated for the ability to produce substances useful in a variety of medical treatments on Earth.
Payload activities today will include Williams and Buckey setting up the General Purpose Work Station (GPWS), a facility in the Spacelab used for studying and working with rodents. They will perform dissection work on some of the rodent subjects being carried on the flight. Linnehan and Pawelczyk will conduct vestibular experiments - investigations that look at the balance mechanism -- and Altman will service the on-board refrigerator freezer used for storing biological samples.
The crew also will conduct some troubleshooting with a data interface unit and a data recording system associated with the Vestibular Function Experiment Unit (VFEU). The VFEU is an aquarium unit that has four separate houses to hold the fish and snails being carried on the flight. Shortly before taking a break for launch, Hire and Pawelczyk will conduct an interview with reporters from the Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel at 2:44 p.m. CDT this afternoon. Questions are expected to focus on Neurolab science objectives and Hire being the first KSC engineer selected as an astronaut.
The next STS-90 status report will be issued at 6 p.m. Central time Saturday.
- end -