NIH Press Release
National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

Stephanie Clipper

NASA to Launch Neurolab Mission
Neuroscientists to Study Development and Function of Brain in Space

Neurolab, the Space Shuttle Columbia flight devoted to nervous system research, is scheduled to launch April 16, 1998, at 2:19 p.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The space mission is a collaborative effort between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and various domestic and international agencies, with substantial support provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"By involving a broad group of national and international scientific research agencies, the Neurolab mission has drawn together an outstanding group of investigators to study the brain," says William Heetderks, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and one of the NIH's project managers for Neurolab. "This is an ambitious and unprecedented undertaking that will allow us to greatly expand our knowledge of how the nervous system develops in and adapts to microgravity. For example, we will be able to observe important changes on a cellular level in muscles and the nervous system that will improve our understanding of muscle development and motor behavior. Prior to Neurolab, these questions were unexplored and unanswered because they require space flight and weightlessness as a component of study design."

The Space Shuttle mission carrying the Neurolab program, also referred to as STS-90, dates back to 1991 and was designed to be NASA's contribution to the "Decade of the Brain", a Congressionally designated declaration signed into law on January 1, 1990, by former President George Bush.

The Neurolab flight is the third Space Shuttle mission dedicated to life science research but is the first mission that specifically focuses on how the neurological system responds to the challenges of space flight. For example, although scientists have been aware of the effect of space flight on bone loss and muscle loss for some time, their understanding of in-flight effects on nervous system functions, such as walking, balance, and blood pressure, are less well understood.

Over the 16-day mission, seven crew members will work in a reusable laboratory module called Spacelab, which is carried in the Shuttle payload bay and is designed to allow scientists to perform experiments under microgravity conditions while orbiting Earth. In addition to crew members conducting in-flight experiments with animals in Spacelab, separate teams of scientists temporarily based at Kennedy will conduct controlled experiments on the ground. Human investigations will be coordinated at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The scientists will conduct their work in daily 12-hour shifts. Their program consists of 26 human and non-human scientific experiments on how the nervous system functions in space. The 26 experiments will be conducted by Neurolab's specialized teams of investigators focusing on the following fields of study:

In addition to NASA, U.S. support for Neurolab comes from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and various agencies within the National Institutes of Health, including the Center for Scientific Review, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

International support comes from French, Canadian, Japanese, and German scientific and health agencies and from member agencies of the European Space Agency or ESA.

The Neurolab mission is Columbia's 25th mission into space and the 90th Shuttle flight in the program's history. The Shuttle's landing is scheduled for 11:07 a.m. EDT on May 3, 1998.

Members of the media may wish to contact NASA Public Affairs at 202-358-1600,
Kennedy Space Center at 407-867-2468, Johnson Space Center at 281-483-5111, and Ames Research Center at
or visit the following relevant websites: