A fit and healthy crew

Medical researchers hoped that this could lead to the ability to construct strong materials for use as artificial skin, blood vessels and other body parts. The GBA was also used to build spherical structures that might be used to encapsulate pharmaceuticals, study the development of brine shrimp and wasps in space and examine the germination and development of plant seeds.

The Astroculture experiment, on the other hand, was stored in a middeck locker and demonstrated a prototype plant-nutrient system with exciting possibilities for future long-duration trips to the Moon and Mars. It was already known that, on Earth, water flows downwards through the soil and is absorbed in plant roots, but an artificial means of providing it would be necessary to grow food for longer missions. During his shifts on the flight deck, Bowersox darted back and forth to keep a close eye on Astroculture, setting up the apparatus to test its water and nutrient delivery, lighting and humidity control systems.

''We're testing the hardware to make sure it is functioning optimally,'' said Astroculture team member Robert Morrow of the University of Wisconsin. ''Before we add actual plants, we want to be sure we have a well-controlled chamber so we can separate gravitational effects from other variables such as temperature and light levels.'' Two runs of the experiment, both supervised by Bowersox, successfully provided a steady flow of water to 'simulated' plant roots.

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