Practising for the space station

microscope. ''Using NIZEMI, we can observe fluid flows and detect the gravity levels at which they begin,'' said Klaus Leonartz, whose material-solidification experiment used the facility. ''We can also determine the effect of the fluid flow on the solid. If we can learn how to make semiconductors or metals more homogeneous, we can improve their properties. By determining gravity thresholds, we can learn how to use other methods, such as electromagnetic forces, to suppress fluid flows during processing on Earth.''

Other NIZEMI experiments included cress roots, which Mukai told Principal Investigator Dieter Volkmann of the University of Bonn had all germinated by 13 July. Volkmann was hoping to pinpoint the minimum amount of gravity to which the cress samples would respond, before committing them as a foodstuff on future missions.

Video downlink from the Spacelab module provided him with clear views of how the seeds were behaving. ''Thus far, we have observed a difference in gravity sensitivity between the microgravity samples and the 1g samples,'' Volkmann told journalists on 18 July. ''That's a first. The microgravity roots responded in six minutes, while samples grown in the 1g centrifuge took 10 minutes.'' Meanwhile, Dorothy Spangenberg's study of the development of jellyfish in space was proving ''a great success.''

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