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Cabana and his Red Team crewmates, however, had little time for reflection on 8 July. Shortly after entering space, Walz's Blue Team went to bed for an abbreviated sleep shift, while the Reds oversaw the activation of the Spacelab module and initiation of its first experiments. ''We're looking forward to a super two weeks up here,'' Cabana enthusiastically told Mission Control. Within three hours of reaching orbit, Mukai began the first of what would be 300 hours' worth of operations with the Advanced Protein Crystallisation Facility (APCF) - a device that employed three different methods to grow crystals of valuable proteins.

As well as making crystals of difficult-to-produce and biologically important proteins for pharmaceutical analysis, the facility was also designed to better determine the physical mechanisms that governed the growth process. The three crystal-growth methods used by APCF were vapour diffusion, liquid-to-liquid

Jim Halsell photographs the Earth through Columbia's overhead windows.

A busy, around-the-clock mission 225

diffusion and dialysis. The first suspended proteins at the end of a syringe which was surrounded by material soaked in a concentrated precipitation agent; as water migrated from the protein solution to the precipitation agent, the concentration of protein in the drop increased, supersaturated and the growth process got underway.

The second technique initially separated the proteins, a buffer solution and precipitation agent by a series of'shutters', which were opened to allow the agent to diffuse into the protein. This caused the protein to become less soluble and initiated crystal growth. Finally, the dialysis method separated the protein and precipitating agent by a thin, semi-permeable membrane which admitted the precipitant and initiated crystal development. Both APCF units were housed in a pair of middeck lockers and, during the course of Columbia's mission, more than 7,000 video images of the crystallisation process were taken.

Meanwhile, in the Spacelab module, Chiao spent part of his first duty shift initiating Biorack experiments. Mukai had already transferred many of the perishable samples from storage lockers on Columbia's middeck into the facility, and late on 8 July Chiao began a five-day experiment to examine the loss of calcium from human bones. A similar investigation had been conducted during IML-1 and its results had suggested that bones typically did not lose a significant amount of calcium, as long as they were exposed to periods of 'compression' - such as vigorous exercise - during flight.

However, it was recognised that more data was needed to counteract the effects of microgravity on the human skeletal system. Biorack was a unique facility in that it could house multiple biological samples, with a total of 19 separate experiments performed during IML-2. Among these was a Norwegian investigation into the growth of genetically modified rapeseed roots and cress seeds. Another study examined the behaviour of fruit flies; its developer, Roberto Marco, was testing his hypothesis that the reason for premature ageing of the insects was due to increased activity as they struggled to move around in the strange microgravity environment.

''Dr Marco tells us the flies in space have been more mobile than their [control] counterparts on the ground at [KSC],'' said Project Scientist Enno Brinckmann, the Biorack team's representative at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Two hundred and fifty kilometres above his head, on board Columbia, Rick Hieb was inclined to agree, remarking that the flies were ''buzzing around with excellent vitality''. By 18 July, 10 days into the mission, however, the astronauts were reporting that the flies' bull-at-a-gate response to microgravity exposure had tailed off and they were acting more like their terrestrial counterparts.

Other Biorack experiments included cultures of human skin fibroblasts - cell-producing connective tissues - and bacterial cells, which had been exposed prior to Columbia's launch to ionised radiation. Don Thomas inserted the samples into Biorack's incubator, to allow them to repair themselves, and from thence into the Spacelab freezer for storage. He also tended samples of baker's yeast, which was being flown as part of Swiss scientist Augusto Cogoli's study into the effects of stirring and mixing on the cultivation of cells in space.

Living and non-living specimens, exposed to varying levels of gravitational influence, were also the focus of research in Germany's Slow Rotating Centrifuge

Rick Hieb (left) and Bob Cabana take air samples from the NIZEMI facility in the Spacelab module.

Microscope, dubbed 'NIZEMI'. It was hoped that in space, free of the bulk of Earth's gravitational pull, investigators would be able to determine how certain organisms responded to their unusual new environment and discover more about their internal gravity-sensing mechanisms. During IML-2, the NIZEMI facility imposed gravitational levels ranging from a thousandth of Earth's gravity to around 1.5g on slime mould, Loxodes, Euglena, jellyfish, cress roots, lymphocytes and a type of green algae called Chara.

In addition to these studies on unicellular and multicellular organisms, samples of non-living matter - including succinonitrile-acetone, a transparent material that solidifies like metal - were also carried in NIZEMI. On 11 July, Chiao inserted samples of the unicellular organism Loxodes striatus into the facility to monitor changes in their orientation, velocities and swimming tracks and better determine the stage at which they began to perceive gravitational forces. Investigators believed that such cells functioned similarly to the inner ear of vertebrates, hopefully yielding new insights into the mechanisms by which living organisms sense gravity.

As Chiao worked, Augusto Cogoli - who had another experiment, known as 'Motion', also on board IML-2 - watched video footage of immune system T- and B-cells, which were part of a study into how immune systems operate. Each sample could be observed in unprecedented detail, thanks to the facility's powerful

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