Aeronautics and Space Report of the President FY 1995 Activities

Space Science

Microgravity and Life Sciences

With the launch of U.S. astronaut Norm Thagard to the Russian space station Mir aboard a Russian spacecraft in March 1995, U.S. and international space research began a new era of expanded opportunities for microgravity research and technology development on orbit. Thagard's mission to Mir included a number of firsts for human space flight—a record total of 10 humans were together on orbit in the docked Shuttle/Mir spacecraft for the first time—and when Thagard and his two Russian colleagues returned to Earth aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, they were the first humans to ride to orbit in a vehicle from one nation and return in that of another. During his record-breaking 116-day mission on Mir, Dr. Thagard and the two cosmonaut crew members conducted a wide range of research using both U.S. and Russian research hardware. They conducted and participated in studies on the challenges of long-duration space flight for human physiology, behavior and performance, and advanced life support. They worked to characterize the air and microgravity environment aboard Mir and to gain insights into the research environment that will be provided by the International Space Station. NASA also worked with its Russian counterparts to standardize U.S. and Russian radiation-detection data.

In addition, the 1995 Mir flights allowed the longest ever period of protein crystal growth in space, with the placement of samples on Mir in June 1995 and their retrieval from Mir in November 1995. In FY 1995, NASA also outfitted the Russian Spektr and Priroda laboratory modules with more than 2,000 kilograms of research equipment. The Russian Space Agency launched Spektr on May 20, 1995, and successfully docked it to Mir. Scientists expect that insights gained aboard Mir will affect the development of technology and research programs for the International Space Station and future long-duration missions.

In addition to the investigations conducted during missions to the Mir space station, NASA used middeck lockers aboard other Space Shuttle missions to conduct life and microgravity sciences experiments. NASA used the Space Shuttle to fly a series of collaborative experiments with the NIH to explore issues in developmental biology, basic physiology, and bone loss and growth. Other middeck experiments included cell biology, immune cell function, inorganic crystal growth, and biotechnology investigations.

In a preliminary test of NASA's bioreactor (an advanced tissue-culturing apparatus) for the ISS, colon cancer tumor cultures taken to orbit grew to be approximately twice the size of ground controls. While the significance of these experimental results is still being evaluated, the technical performance of the experiment was excellent.

Two sounding rocket tests of the Spread Across Liquids experiment were successfully conducted at White Sands Missile Range on November 22, 1994, and August 28, 1995. The experiments are investigations of flame spread characteristics across a deep pool of combustible liquid in a microgravity environment. These experiments are important both for fire safety on orbit and as fundamental research on the nature of combustion. Materials scientists at NIST also conducted research on the optical properties of selected substances at high temperatures and the nature of combustion and flame spread in a microgravity environment.

A newly outfitted DC-9 microgravity research aircraft began operations in July 1995. The new DC-9 serves as a low-gravity research facility that is capable of producing brief periods of low gravity by flying special parabolic flight paths. The plane plays a vital role as a test platform for preparing microgravity experiments for flight on both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle.

More Shuttle protein crystal growth experiments were flown in FY 1995 than the total for the previous decade. Protein crystals grown on orbit supported drug development efforts by major pharmaceutical firms seeking improved treatments for a variety of medical problems, including diabetes and emphysema.

Experiments from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute aboard the Space Shuttle produced important new insights into a process by which the structure of metal forms. The results of these investigations provided insights into the solidification process, which could not be made precisely on Earth. Results of this experiment may aid in the development of stronger or more corrosion-resistant metal alloys.

In FY 1995, NASA and NIH managers completed the selection of 32 principal investigators for Neurolab, the next dedicated life sciences Shuttle mission. Scheduled to fly during FY 1998, the Neurolab mission will concentrate on neuroscience and will support a mix of prominent domestic and international investigators.

Also during the fiscal year, NASA scientists completed preparations for the launch of the second U.S. Microgravity Laboratory (USML-2), a major Spacelab mission dedicated to microgravity research. While the launch of the mission was delayed until October 1995, scientists completed all experimental preparation and integration in FY 1995. Researchers prepared many investigations on crystal growth and surface-tension-driven convection. Building on scientific foundations laid by previous Space Shuttle missions, USML-2 investigators pursued new insights into theoretical models of fluid physics, combustion science, materials science, and biotechnology.

NASA completed Phase I of the Early Human Test Initiative, a 15-day experiment to evaluate the use of higher plants for air revitalization in extraterrestrial habitats. A life sciences researcher entered the closed test chamber on July 24, 1995. The chamber contained facilities to maintain him for the test period without any additional supplies and a plant growth facility containing a mature wheat crop. The wheat crop produced sufficient oxygen and removed carbon dioxide to meet the requirements of 1.6-person equivalents. After 6 days of operation, the plant photosynthesis was matched to the metabolic requirements of the test subject by adjusting the lamps for the plants. The experiment was successfully concluded when the researcher exited the test chamber on August 8, 1995.

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Curator: Lillian Gipson
Last Updated: September 5, 1996
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