January 26, 1998 - Details, details

In our first week as "prime crew" we found a palpable difference in the excitement level about our mission. April 2nd seems just around the corner as we entered a new round of exercises focused on perfecting our experiment skills and emergency procedures.

Much of our payload time was spent rehearsing the autonomic experiments to be performed on Neurolab. These are perhaps the most complicated human experiments yet performed in space, so we rely heavily on written procedures to help jog our rapidly filling memories. There’s a lot of "gotchas" with this protocol. Forgetting to start a recorder, for instance (there’s 7 different recording media for one experiment) could mean a loss of important data for the investigators. Thus, rehearsal becomes key to success.

These investigators will study the role the nervous system plays in regulating brain blood flow and the diameter of blood vessels on a moment to moment basis. We’ll use a technique called microneurography to insert microelectrodes into a peripheral nerve and record the electrical potentials that elicit blood vessel constriction (a first for spaceflight research).

This week also included "dollar rides" for two of the payload specialists in T-38 aircraft. Every payload specialist receives a familiarization flight in a NASA T-38, which is the standard Air Force jet training aircraft. Astronauts accumulate at least 100 hours per year in T-38s to maintain pilot proficiency, improve situation awareness, and facilitate cockpit communication and crew coordination. And yes, it’s fun. Shouldn’t everyone love the work they do?

Finally, we ended with some suited egress exercises, which allow us to practice getting out of an orbiter through the top observation window or side hatch in the event of a ground emergency using a "sky genie" (a descent device similar to rapelling). If you think this sound simple, try pulling yourself through a shoulder width skylight window while wearing a bucket on your head and an 80 pound vest! You get the idea. As much of 80% of flight training involves simulating contingency procedures, and this is one more example of a great learning experience to familiarize us with emergencies.

Next week we begin L-60 day baseline data collection sessions. Stay tuned, and keep a positive Neurolabitude!

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