Neurolab scientists today continued their search for an answer to the question "Can mammals develop normally in microgravity?" as Columbia’s astronauts dissected eight newborn rats and watched others learn to walk for the first time – but without gravity. Commander Rick Searfoss, Pilot Scott Altman, Mission Specialists Rick Linnehan, Kay Hire and Dave Williams along with Payload Specialists Jay Buckey and Jim Pawelczyk neared the halfway mark of their neuroscience research mission, and served as subjects for the autonomic blood pressure regulation studies.
Buckey and Williams euthanized and dissected eight rats that were nine days old at launch and had never learned to walk on Earth in an experiment to study critical periods in the development of the balance system. Part of the work being done by the Mammalian Development Team, the dissections will allow scientists on the ground to look at how the brainstem, hippocampus, cerebellum and vestibular organs develop without the influence of gravity.
Veterinarian Linnehan and Williams placed several young rats whose eyes are not yet open on a small track to test their ability to learn to walk while on orbit. These studies will help scientists determine wither the rats will develop abnormal balance and swimming patterns that can persist into adulthood. What they learn may be useful in helping humans who are born and develop without the senses of, for example, sight or hearing, and later have those senses restored through medical treatment.
Linnehan, Pawelczyk and Buckey monitored changes taking place in their autonomic nervous systems. This system automatically controls blood pressure. The astronauts served as subjects and operators of the Lower Body Negative Pressure device, which was used to place stress on the cardiovascular system as measurements of the nervous system’s response were recorded through a variety of testing mechanisms.
Searfoss, Altman and Hire continued to maintain Columbia’s systems, performing routine housekeeping chores and assisting in science activities. Searfoss and Altman each took a turn operating the Portable In-Flight Landing Operations Trainer (PILOT), a laptop computer and joystick system that allows them to simulate approaches and landings to the Kennedy Space Center.
Altman and Linnehan were interviewed by WGN Radio anchor Spike O’Dell of Chicago, who patched in a special guest from Phoenix, former all-star second baseman Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs. On behalf of the Cubs organization, O’Dell invited Altman, an Illinois native and longtime Cubs fan, to throw out the first pitch at a future game.
Columbia remains in a 153 x 133 nautical mile orbit, with all its systems operating perfectly. The astronauts will go to sleep at 9:39 p.m. CDT and be awakened at 5:39 a.m. Saturday to begin the ninth day of their long research mission. The next STS-90 status report will be issued about 6 a.m. Saturday.
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