Discovery brimming with science projects
Glenn during training
October 28, 1998
Web posted at: 5:00 PM EDT
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By CNN Interactive Writer John Christensen
(CNN) -- Eighty-three experiments are to be performed aboard the shuttle
Discovery during its nine-day mission, and most of them have nothing to do with
They range from attempts to improve soybeans to tests of a refrigerator that
might house future experiments to a project aimed at determining whether
cockroaches can live and reproduce in space, and in what ways they might be
changed when they return.
The astronauts are also to test some hardware for the Hubble Space Telescope that will be installed on the telescope during a future mission.
But Glenn's presence on the shuttle and his participation in aging-related
experiments have received much of the attention, and for good reason.
The prospect of a 77-year-old man -- and an American hero, at that -- going into
space has revived public interest in the space program like nothing in recent
And while Glenn did not meet the criteria for one of the experiments he was to
have participated in -- testing melatonin as an aid to sleep -- he will not be
His responsibilities include:
- Participating in a study of sleep disturbances, a common problem for
astronauts. Glenn will wear electrodes while sleeping so that his brain waves
can be monitored, swallow a tiny thermometer with a transmitter that will and
send temperature readings every 15 seconds, and undergo tests for alertness.
- Taking protein pills and injections with fellow astronaut Pedro Duque and then
giving blood and urine samples in an experiment to determine why the body breaks
down protein faster in space and in the elderly.
- Wearing a heart monitor to check for fluctuations during various activities in
- Being tested before and after the mission for the effects of weightlessness on
his equilibrium and on the amount of muscle he loses during the mission. His
data will be compared to that of the others on Discovery.
One of the experiments aboard Discovery that won't involve Glenn is a joint
venture between NASA, the University of Alabama and two U.S. companies to create
a "bioreactor" that would allow companies to develop products in microgravity.
Among the things to be tested in the bioreactor will be a process for growing a
protein that researchers hope will prevent bodies from rejecting transplanted
Another aims at developing a microencapsulation technique that may lead to
implants for diabetics, sparing them the necessity of daily insulin injections.
A third experiment involves an attempt to create synthetic bone for such
purposes as dental implants and hip replacements, and the development of "heart
patches" that would replace heart muscle and, ideally, reduce the need for heart
Still another experiment in the bioreactor aims at creating an anti-cancer drug
from compounds taken from soybean cells.
Among the other experiments:
- The production of a substance called Aerogel, a thin foam slightly heavier
than air and so transparent it is nicknamed "frozen smoke." Aerogel has the
insulation characteristics of 30 panes of regular glass, and has a number of
promising commercial applications. Among them could be its use in computer
processors to prevent signal cross-over -- a common problem in current chips.
- A set of experiments that include the development of artificial blood and a
technology to deliver high doses of chemotherapy to tumors while reducing
harmful side effects.
- Launching the Spartan 201 satellite to continue studies of the sun's corona.
This will be Spartan's fifth mission and, NASA hopes, more productive than its
last. In November 1997, the craft tumbled out of control shortly after being
released from the shuttle Columbia and had to be recaptured by spacewalking
astronauts. Spartan is equipped with two telescopes to measure emissions from
the sun's corona. Scientists hope to understand why the sun's rotation has
slowed and how the Earth's energy field, its climate and its weather are
affected by radiation and particles in the solar wind.
- Spartan will also test a system that may allow those on the ground to download
images from the satellite in real-time and make immediate corrections in the
satellite's orientation. In addition, the satellite will be used to test a Video
Guidance Sensor, a key component for an automated docking system that would
eliminate the need for astronauts to dock spacecraft manually. The system has
been tested on Earth and was accurate to within one-tenth of an inch.