Neurolab, the Last Spacelab Mission

Fifteen years ago today — April 17, 1998 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a unique scientific mission.

(The Spacelab module in the Shuttle cargo bay during mission STS-90. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The STS-90 crew — Richard A. Searfoss, Scott D. Altman, Richard M. Linnehan, Dafydd Rhys Williams, Kathryn P. Hire, Jay C. Buckey, and James A. Pawelczyk — spent just over 2 weeks in space, operating the “Neurolab” which

targeted one of the most complex and least understood parts of the human body — the nervous system. The primary goals were to conduct basic research in neurosciences and expand understanding of how the nervous system develops and functions in space. Test subjects were crew members and rats, mice, crickets, snails and two kinds of fish.

The crew conducted most of the experiments in the European Space Agency’s pressurized Spacelab module, which flew for the last time on this mission.

The mission might have ended a week early because of a problem with the Regenerative Carbon Dioxide Removal System, but ground-based engineers guided the crew through bypassing a “suspect valve”┬áto enable them to stay on orbit.

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