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Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1753)


Catherine Watson
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(Phone: 281-483-5111)
May 12, 2003
 
RELEASE : 03-167
 
 
What Happens to the Brain in Space? New NASA Book has the Answers
 
 
NASA released a new book that shows the complex and sometimes surprising changes in the brain and nervous system that allow astronauts to adapt to weightlessness.

"The Neurolab Spacelab Mission: Neuroscience Research in Space," documents the results of a 16-day Space Shuttle mission dedicated to studying how weightlessness affects the brain and nervous system. The seven-person Shuttle Columbia (STS-90) crew (and two alternate crewmembers on the ground) worked with 26 experiments during the June 1998, Neurolab mission. The mission was a collaborative effort among NASA, its international partners and other government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

The experiments' results suggest nervous systems may need gravity to develop normally; some concept of how gravity works also may be "built in" to the brain. "Some experts studied gravity sensors, others the connections sensors make in the brain, and others the perceptions the astronauts themselves experienced," said Dr. Jay Buckey, an associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., who flew aboard Neurolab as a payload specialist. "Taken together, these experiments offer a comprehensive view of how the balance system strives to adapt to a novel environment, such as weightlessness. By putting all the scientific reports into one volume, the connections between experiments and their complementary nature became clear," Buckey said.

The book's commentary and summaries are designed to be accessible to general scientific readers, but the chapters also include detailed descriptions and references, which offer researchers opportunities for additional study.

The experiments are organized into five research areas: the balance system; sensory integration and navigation; nervous system development in weightlessness; blood pressure control; and circadian rhythms and sleep. Each area is described in a brief introduction with detailed color illustrations.

"This research reveals how the nervous system, the most complex system in the body, is affected by and adapts to space," said NASA's Chief Scientist, Dr. Shannon Lucid, a former astronaut researcher. "Through the Neurolab mission, NASA investigators and agency partners have opened up a new path of research, allowing us to look at neurological problems in a new way. This book will be the basis for rewriting textbooks for years to come."

"Results from experiments performed on Neurolab will aid in an improved understanding of medical issues such as blood pressure control, balance disorders, and sleep disruption that affect Earth-bound humans," said Dr. Jerry Homick, the Neurolab mission scientist. "The varying levels of information provided by the book should be an asset to educators and students who wish to learn about the effects of weightless space flight on the brain and the nervous system."

The book is available through the U.S. Government Printing Office and can be ordered through the Internet at:

http://bookstore.gpo.gov/

 

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