Press Release

NASA Ames Flight Research to Focus on Fundamental Biology

By SpaceRef Editor
January 14, 2003
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Understanding how the body adapts to space flight is the goal of four fundamental biology experiments set to fly on this month’s space shuttle mission. The 16-day flight is dedicated to investigating human physiology and other areas of research beneficial to people on Earth.

The flight payload will contain three Fundamental Rodent Experiments Supporting Health (FRESH) designed to examine the body’s adaptation to microgravity. This includes cerebral spinal fluid and body fluid imbalance, central nervous system adaptation, and changes in blood vessels that affect the regulation of blood pressure. A fourth experiment will investigate how a common soil and water bacterium grows in microgravity. The STS-107 mission is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Jan. 16 on the space shuttle Columbia.

“Gravity has been present throughout evolution and influences all biological and physiological systems,” said Marilyn Vasques, STS-107 project scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, in California’s Silicon Valley. “The opportunity to study these systems in the absence of gravity provides novel and fundamental insight into how these systems work.”

Dr. Michael Delp of Texas A&M University, College Station, will examine the physiological responses of individual blood vessels involved in blood flow and blood pressure regulation. In space, fluids shift from the lower to the upper parts of the body, which triggers changes within the cardiovascular system. Although appropriate in microgravity, these adaptations can cause problems such as dizziness or fainting when astronauts return to Earth. The study of the resulting vascular adaptations will yield essential information about the basic physiological responses of individual blood vessels. This information also will support development of treatments or countermeasures to improve the health and performance of astronauts when they return to Earth.

Dr. Jacqueline Gabrion of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, will study the production of choroidal cerebral spinal fluid in rats after exposure to microgravity. The distribution of fluids in the body changes as the body adapts to microgravity. Previous spaceflight experiments suggest that choroidal cerebral spinal fluid production is reduced in rats exposed to microgravity. This experiment will contribute to a better understanding of basic mechanisms that regulate body fluid balance. It also will provide an opportunity to investigate the mechanisms of adaptation that involve fluid balance in the brain, kidneys and lungs.

Dr. Gay Holstein of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine will investigate changes in the brain’s cerebellar cortex that accompany adaptation to altered gravity. Changes in astronaut sensory and motor function, including space adaptation syndrome and sensations of rotation, dizziness and vertigo, occur during and following exposure to microgravity. Adaptation to the microgravity environment usually occurs within one week, and a re-adaptation period of several days often is required upon return to Earth. The results of this experiment will help identify the cellular causes of changes in the balance system that occur during adaptation and re-adaptation to different gravitational forces.

Dr. Barry Pyle of Montana State University, Bozeman, will investigate a common soil and water bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginos. His study will provide insight into the growth, physiology and toxin production of this diverse group of microorganisms that is widely distributed in the environment and part of the normal intestinal flora of healthy humans. Previous research has shown that bacteria grow faster in space than on Earth and that the ability of certain antibiotics to control bacterial infections may differ greatly in space. A better understanding of these bacteria may lead to improved treatment and prevention of infections. The European Space Agency provided the hardware for this experiment.

“NASA Ames is providing three Animal Enclosure Modules (AEMs), which will house the rats in the FRESH experiments,” said Rudy Aquilina, NASA Ames’ STS-107 project manager. Although 41 AEMs have flown on 21 previous space shuttle missions, this is the first AEM flight in the Spacehab module. “The team has worked hard preparing for this flight and is excited about the science that will be returned from this fundamental biology life sciences mission,” Aquilina said.

Understanding the many physiological adaptations that occur in microgravity is essential for developing treatments and countermeasures to improve crew health and performance in space and following return to Earth. Blood vessel changes seen in microgravity may resemble cardiovascular changes associated with aging, and the short- and long-term changes in neural structure that occur during adaptation to microgravity resemble those found in certain neurological disorders.

Sponsored and funded by NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research, the studies are part of NASA’s effort to use the microgravity environment of space to advance knowledge in ways that cannot be achieved on Earth. Details about STS-107 research are available at:

Further information about NASA’s fundamental biology program is available at:

Details about the STS-107 mission are available at:

SpaceRef staff editor.