Space Shuttle Lab Tests Effects of Gravity (and Lack of It) on Brain, Nervous System

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NBC News
Chris Hansen/Stan Bernard
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Aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, astronauts do experiments on laboratory animals to collect data on the effects of gravity and zero gravity on brain function and the nervous system.



"Space Shuttle Lab Tests Effects of Gravity (and Lack of It) on Brain, Nervous System." Stan Bernard, correspondent. NBC News. NBCUniversal Media. 3 May 1998. NBC Learn. Web. 31 March 2015.


Bernard, S. (Reporter), & Hansen, C. (Anchor). (1998, May 3). Space Shuttle Lab Tests Effects of Gravity (and Lack of It) on Brain, Nervous System. [Television series episode]. NBC News. Retrieved from


"Space Shuttle Lab Tests Effects of Gravity (and Lack of It) on Brain, Nervous System" NBC News, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/03/1998. Accessed Tue Mar 31 2015 from NBC Learn:


Space Shuttle Lab Tests Effects of Gravity (and Lack of It) on Brain, Nervous System


Good evening. The space shuttle Columbia is back on Earth tonight wrapping up a historic mission. For two weeks, the spacecraft was used as a modern-day Noah's Ark, bearing some 2,000 lab animals for crucial experiments on the brain and nervous system. And while there were some casualties along the way, the mission is being hailed as a huge success and the experiments are far from over. Here's NBC's Stan Bernard.

STAN BERNARD reporting:

Columbia, the oldest space shuttle, returned to Earth today, with nearly 6 1/2 million more miles on its flight log. And scientists on the ground were ecstatic.

DR. MARY ANNE FREY (NASA Program Scientist): All right!

BERNARD: The two-week neuro-lab mission is being declared an extraordinary success, because it delivered a wealth of new data on how the brain works.

DR. FREY: It's a mission of firsts--first direct nerve reportings from space, first surgeries in space, and first joint recording of sleep and respiration and many others.

BERNARD: Although more than half of the 96 baby rats on board died unexpectedly, the mission collected usable data.

DAVE WILLIAMS (Astronaut): They actually get around in zero G, kind of like we get around. They push off with their hind limbs and they sort of reach out their forepaws to grab on to something, stabilize themselves and push off again.

BERNARD: Every experiment was geared to learning more about what the body in space could teach us about improving functions such as balance and sleep on Earth.

WILLIAMS: We get on that rotating chair and spin at a speed of 45RPM's, similar to being on a record player in days gone by. We're interested in understanding that phenomenon relative to problems within space motion sickness, and we think it will also help us understand problems with patients who have balance disorders on Earth.

BERNARD: Sleeping in space is a problem. Arms and bodies tend to float, and with the sun rising every 90 minutes, the body clock wakes up. On this mission, experiments were done on the use of melatonin to enhance sleep. In the hours before the landing at the Kennedy Space Center, the crew packed their precious cargo of thousands of insects, fish, snails and the surviving rodents. The experiments in space were finished; the next phase was eagerly awaited by scientists on the ground.

DR. GAY HOLSTEIN (Mt. Sinai Hospital Researcher): I'm sitting here like a little kid with ants in my pants. I can't wait to get going on my experiments. The tissues are being unloaded from the shuttle, and I'm just raring to go.

BERNARD: The scientists say they may know soon if gravity is necessary to nervous system development. But by examining information collected on this mission, they hope to know more about the treatment of blood pressure problems, kidney failure and leukemia. A final report on the neuro-lab mission may take a year. Stan Bernard, NBC News.