Columbia's crew members began a slate of 26 experiments focused on the human nervous system today as they moved through their first full day in orbit, measuring each other's blood pressure changes and working with some of the rodents and fish onboard for studies of the sense of balance.
Payload Commander Rick Linnehan and Payload Specialist Jim Pawelczyk measured each other's blood pressure and blood flow to the brain for an investigation into how the body adapts in weightlessness, where it does not have to work against gravity to circulate blood. Astronaut Kay Hire began studies of Oyster Toadfish aboard Columbia, jostling the specially instrumented saltwater aquarium to study how the fish maintain a sense of up and down in weightlessness. For other studies of the sense of balance and the inner ear in weightlessness, Payload Specialist Jay Buckey, an associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, dissected four of the rats housed in Columbia's laboratory facilities. The studies complement orientation investigations in which crew members are participating and should provide new insight into how the inner ears of both animals and humans adapt when first exposed to weightlessness.
Called Neurolab, all of the nervous system studies can benefit researchers studying illnesses on Earth as well as provide insight into how astronauts may better counteract the effects of weightlessness for future long space journeys. The blood pressure studies may assist those on Earth researching similar blood pressure conditions that can cause dizziness or fainting, a symptom astronauts also may briefly experience upon their return to Earth. Studies of the sense of balance and its adaptation to weightlessness may provide information to assist studies of inner ear disorders on Earth.
Early this afternoon, Hire and Pawelczyk took time out from the science activities to answer questions from reporters with two Kennedy Space Center, Florida, area newspapers, the NASA center where Hire was working when she was selected as an astronaut. During the evening, the crew began research activities using a rotating chair in the laboratory that stimulates the inner ear with its spinning and allows scientists to measure how vision provides cues to assist the sense of balance in space.
Columbia is in excellent condition with no mechanical problems. The crew will go to sleep at 11:39 p.m. Central tonight and awaken at 7:39 a.m. Central on Sunday.
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