When the US Space Shuttle blasts off on 16 April on a mission to investigate the human nervous system, it will be carrying a unique rotating chair that is set to add a new dimension to the astronaut's already topsy turvy life in space.
Developed for the European Space Agency (ESA) by a European industrial team headed by Aerospatiale, the special chair will spin astronauts at speeds of up to 45 rpm as part of an experiment to investigate the role of the inner ear in detecting changes in motion and orientation. While they are being rotated, the astronauts will wear a sophisticated head display unit and measuring device that will record their eye movements and thus their response to the stimulation as they attempt to orient themselves.
The ESA rotating chair is one of the main items of equipment onboard the Shuttle's STS-90/Neurolab flight that will focus on the effects of weightlessness on the nervous system, one of the most complex and least understood parts of the human body. The 16-day Neurolab flight will bring together two of the last great frontiers of human exploration - outer space and inner space.
Scientists from France, Germany and Italy are leading seven of the 26 experiments, which range from studies of the inner ear and sleep patterns to a very visual study of how astronauts adapt to catching a ball in weightlessness. The results should have many practical applications back on Earth. For those with disease or trauma to the ear's vestibular system which senses balance, for those with cerebral deficiencies and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, and for the millions with orthostatic intolerance (dizziness from standing up too quickly), Neurolab research may offer further insight into the disorder or new approaches to diagnosis leading to more effective treatment.
Neurolab is also expected to provide key answers to how the human body functions in weightlessness, clarifying the requirements for upcoming long-term stays on the International Space Station.
Most of the experiments to be carried out by the seven-member crew, which includes three medical doctors, will take place in Spacelab, the pressurised scientific laboratory carried in the Shuttle's cargo bay. Developed by ESA and built by European industry under the leadership of ERNO (now Daimler-Benz Aerospace), Spacelab is making its 22nd and final scheduled trip into orbit after 15 years of service.
The Shuttle is scheduled to lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 20:19 Central European Time on 16 April. To learn more about the Neurolab mission and its science, visit the ESA web page:
_ HYPERLINK http://www.eas.int _http://www.esa.int_
Note to Editors:
ESA will broadcast a one-hour live videotransmission culminating in the launch, via satellite starting at 19:40 on 16 April as follows:
Satellite: Telecom 2C Position: 3 degrees East Transponder: No 3 vertical Frequency: 12.606 GHz English subcarrier: 6.6 MHz German/English subcarrier: 7.2 MHz
More than 25 sites across Europe will be hosting an event around the broadcast. Call (33) 220.127.116.11.82 to determine the site nearest you.
The videotransmission will also be broadcast in Germany by the BR alpha TV network, and will be shown live on the internet at: http//www.dasa.de (courtesy of Daimler-Benz Aerospace).
For further information, please contact : ESA Public Relations Division Tel: +33(0)18.104.22.168.55 Fax: +33(0)22.214.171.124.90