On the 13th day of his 17-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, James A. Pawelczyk,
assistant professor of kinesiology and physiology, was all smiles as he prepared to measure
nerve signals of a crew mate. Pawelczyk, a payload specialist on the flight and the
first Penn State faculty member in space, returned safely to his home planet
on May 3 after completing 256 orbits of the Earth.
Photo: Courtesy of NASA
Pawelczyk the subject
James A. Pawelczyk is the subject of human autonomic experiments
in the Neurolab of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Columbia. Jay C. Buckey
Jr., payload specialist (right hand in frame lower left corner), and Pawelczyk
are conducting experiments involving the Lower Body Negative Pressure device
to determine how the human nervous system adapts to the weightlessness of
By Barbara Hale
The Space Shuttle Columbia glided to a safe landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 12:09 p.m. Sunday, May 3, returning James A. Pawelczyk, the first Penn State faculty member to go into space, to his home planet.
Pawelczyk, assistant professor of physiology and kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Development, served as a payload specialist aboard the 16-day mission. His chief duty was to act as operator and subject for the 26 studies that were the scientific focus of the mission, known as Neurolab.
"It's great to have Jim safely back on Earth and we're looking forward to his return to Penn State," said University President Graham B. Spanier. "The important experiments he and his crew mates performed during the mission will have an important impact on our understanding of human physiology.
"We are proud of Jim's contributions to the U.S. space program and are excited about the impact he will have in the classrooms of Penn State."
During the mission, which was devoted to studies of the brain, nervous system and behavior, Pawelczyk conducted experiments with rats and mice, but he also was spun in a rotating chair at 45 miles per hour to explore how the balance organs in the inner ear adapt to spaceflight. He had his sleep cycle, nighttime movement, breathing patterns, blood pressure and heart rate recorded to help determine if altered breathing patterns contribute to the difficulties astronauts have sleeping in weightlessness.
He caught balls and used a special glove to see how eye-hand coordination changes as the nervous system adjusts to the lack of gravity. He allowed his fellow payload specialist, Jay Buckey, to place an electrode the size of an acupuncture needle in a nerve just below his knee to record the signals going from the brain to blood vessels.
On day nine of the mission, Pawelczyk and the other six crew members successfully repaired the shuttle's carbon dioxide removal equipment which threatened to cut short the mission. The repair came just a day before Pawelczyk held a planned, interactive, distance education session with 27 Penn State graduate and undergraduate students while he orbited 168 miles above the Earth.
Throughout the mission, he was, as President Spanier noted during the distance education session, the embodiment of Penn State's land-grant mission, combining research with teaching and service as never before.
It is not known when Pawelczyk will return to campus. He must first undergo a series of special medical examinations by the staff at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The medical regime will not only assess his overall health, but also will record his body's responses to flight and his return to gravity.
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