Space mission aims to increase understanding of the nervous system

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 25 April 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1261
  1. Deborah Josefson
  1. San Francisco

    Seven astronauts and more than 2000 other creatures were launched into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia last week in a massive effort to study the effect of microgravity on the development and function of the nervous system.

    The 16 day shuttle mission, known as Neurolab, is the first devoted exclusively to the neurosciences and the last launch of the century dedicated to the life sciences. Neurolab has cost $99m (£62m) so far, but the research is expected to lay the groundwork for long term space travel by providing insight into the neurological mechanisms of adaptions that the body makes in space. Earth based medicine is also likely to benefit from such research.

    Prominent problems currently encountered by astronauts include space motion sickness, orthostatic intolerance, insomnia, and muscle atrophy. Longer space missions will impose additional demands on a nervous system already confused by the microgravity environment. Moreover, if people are …

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