Columbia Next Up With Seven Astronauts, 30 Rats, 2,400 Jellyfish With PM-Space Shuttle, Bjt
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The seven astronauts on NASA’s next shuttle flight will have company in orbit later this month. Aboard Columbia, crammed into cages and flasks, will be 30 white rats and 2,400 jellyfish.
NASA is aiming to get Columbia off the ground around May 22. An official launch date for the scientific research mission will be set early next week.
″What this mission is trying to do is to evaluate the acute adaptation of humans to space flight,″ said Ronald White, chief scientist for NASA’s life sciences division.
Ten of the 18 primary investigations will concentrate on the human system. Seven others, involving the rats, are designed to verify animal equipment, White said.
The jellyfish investigation will focus on the animals’ metamorphosis in a gravity-free environment. Only tiny, young specimens will fly.
Jellyfish are well suited for Columbia’s nine-day mission because of their swift development. Jellyfish polyps, an early form of the creature, develop into the more mature ephyra stage in five to six days when iodine is added to their water.
It will be the first time jellyfish have flown in space. NASA has sent up rats, flies, bees, moths, spiders and fish, but never jellyfish.
The jellyfish experiment may benefit humans, too. Scientists hope to learn more about astronauts’ calcium loss during space flight by measuring how much calcium some of the jellyfish lose.
All the animals will be kept in a laboratory that will encompass Discovery’s entire cargo bay. The astronauts will float from the cabin through a tunnel into the Spacelab module, where they will conduct the experiments.
The Spacelab module has not been used since 1985. It will contain about $130 million worth of experiments and equipment, White said.
As Columbia orbits 184 miles above Earth, the astronauts will monitor each other’s nervous system, heartbeat and blood pressure. The crew includes three physicians, a chemist and an astronomer.
White said the mission will pick up, in a sense, where the 1973 Skylab missions left off. The third and final Skylab crew spent 84 days in space.
″We came up with a whole series of questions we need to address in order to understand the adaptation process″ of people in space, White said. ″These investigations really take off from that point.″
Columbia’s astronauts were at Kennedy Space Center on Monday for a countdown test that ends Tuesday. They interrupted their training to watch Discovery make a rare Florida landing.
Columbia’s trip will be NASA’s 41st shuttle flight.