STS -78 (English Space Transportation System) is a mission name for the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia ( OV -102) from NASA. The launch took place on 20 June 1996. It was the 78th Space Shuttle mission and the 20th flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

  • 2.1 Medical examinations
  • 2.2 Biological Experiments
  • 2.3 microgravity research


Home team

  • Terence Henricks (4th space flight), Commander
  • Kevin Kregel ( second space flight), Pilot
  • Susan Helms ( third space flight ), Mission Specialist
  • Richard Linnehan ( first space flight), Mission Specialist
  • Charles Brady ( first space flight), Mission Specialist
  • Jean -Jacques Favier (1st space flight), Payload Specialist ( CNES / France)
  • Robert Thirsk ( first space flight), Payload Specialist (CSA / Canada)


  • Pedro Duque (ESA / Spain) for Favier
  • Luca Urbani ( ASI / Italy) for Thirsk

Mission Description

41 experiments of scientists from eleven countries were carried out during the longest shuttle mission in the Spacelab and the middle deck. Focused on the life sciences, medicine and biology, and microgravity.

Medical examinations

Have been researching the effects of weightlessness on single muscle and bone tissue. To load tests were respiratory and pulse measurements are made and the effects measured on single muscle fibers. Were determined as well as the reactions of the body especially the nervous system to the progressive muscular atrophy. These measurements of muscle activity on the hand, arm and leg were made. With the help of blood hormone levels could be determined. Further studies related to the contractility of the muscles, the relationship between contraction speed and load as well as between strength of nerve impulses and muscle contraction, the change in muscle volume during and after space flight, the ratio of body fat and muscle mass and capacity of the skeletal muscle before, during and after space flight. In almost all medical experiments data were collected both on Earth and in space. Since no physical stresses occur in zero gravity, the formation of muscle and bone cells is partially restricted.

Were also studied effects of altered metabolism in different cell types. So we worked on the development of a treatment against calcium loss in the bones. Calcium to a rare isotope has been administered, the attachment was measured in the bone after return to earth. The calcium supplement was included for the first time 10 days before the flight and ending 7 days after the landing. Also with rare isotopes, the relationship between energy consumption and caloric intake was studied. A higher energy consumption can lead to the breakdown of protein reserves in the muscles. The measurement of energy expenditure was on the determination of the isotopic composition in the urine and saliva of subjects. These comparative studies under load in space and on the earth and in the resting state were made.

To check lung function breath tests were carried out with air, and a special test gas. The motion of the chest were measured by a specially designed belt. Here, too, were against comparative data collected and after the flight. About the recording of body temperature over a whole day, the brain waves, eye movements and muscle contractions during sleep and urine samples were tracked changes in biorhythms. Interested but scientists were also involved in the cognitive performance of the spaceman at different times. Why were performed using a laptop computer recognition and reasoning tests. The speed and accuracy of the solution of the tasks is to allow statements about how the alternation of work and rest periods can affect the performance of the astronauts during long space flights positively.

Finally equilibrium studies were performed. Without the effect of gravity, the vestibular organ in the inner ear is flooded with stimuli. The body of most spaceman reacts with nausea and decreased efficiency. An adjustment usually takes several days. During the Columbia mission have been by special measuring devices, the movements of eyes, head and upper body at the beginning of the mission, measured and recorded after a few days and just before returning to Earth. This should be recorded, how fast the adaptation process. In a second experiment on this problem area, the astronauts wore a cyber helmet, on whose screen they were shown moving objects. Which they were to follow with the eyes. The movements of the head and eye coordination was recorded.

Biological experiments

Damage in the timber industry occur when trees grow suddenly for no apparent reason crooked. This produces low-quality wood. Using Piniensaatlingen was investigated without the influence of gravity, what goes on in such a case exactly in the cells. Malformations were documented photographically.

The example of the Madakafisches embryonic development was studied. It particularly interested in the differences between the development in space and on Earth. For this, the 36 embryos were frozen in various stages of development. Careful examination takes place only after the flight.

The role of corticosteroids in the bone loss during space flight was determined by the measurement of bone mass, bone formation and bone cell activity. To 12 laboratory rats were housed in two modules on the middle deck of Columbia.

Microgravity research

In the Bubble, Drop and Particle Unit ( BPDU ) to drops or bubbles of different size in sample containers that are filled with a liquid, are given. Due to the variation of temperature, pressure and electric fields, the behavior of the inclusions can be studied in different situations. In particular, melting, solidification, evaporation, condensation and flow phenomena were observed. Examines the failure of the crystallization by gas bubbles, the independent separation of individual components in mixtures during melting or solidification and formation and collapse of vapor bubbles upon local heating or cooling of liquids or gas inclusions were. Has also been explored by evaporative cooling of small components in zero gravity and the stability of strip dielectric fluids within an electric field. This change fluids such as motor oil or silicone electrical properties minimal. If they are pulled apart at the ends so the liquid film breaks in the electric field later ( electrodynamics of liquid bridges). In the BPDU also experiments to movement of bubbles in a liquid contained in a container which is heated on one side and cooled on the other side, were made. As a result, differences in surface tension, which influence the movement of the bubbles arising. The surface tension is also cause for turbulent Konvektionsflüsse in layered liquid films at different temperatures. Used in this application was methanol, which was located between a cold and a warm octane layer. Through observation of the flow rates of all three layers was found, at which temperature values, the flow destabilized ( Marangoni convection). Finally, the movement of bubbles and was observed in drops of a liquid at different temperatures. Research focus here was the mutual influence of 6 to 10 drops or bubbles that were injected with each test run.

The Advanced Gradient Heating Facility ( AGHF ) crystallization experiments are performed. In this case, the edge of the solidification zone can be indicated by a current pulse ( pulse Pektier mark). On Earth, the solidification fronts can then find in cross-sections of the crystals produced. So that an accurate determination of the growth rate is possible. 6 studies were completed in total. Thus, a comparative study on the formation of porous and dendritic ( tree-like ) crystals of aluminum alloy in microgravity and in normal gravity was performed. Porous crystals formed during rapid cooling, dendritic at very high shock cooling. Object of research was the border area between the two types of crystallization. Were investigated also the crystallization of alloys which can not be mixed on the earth ( aluminum and Indiumproben ), the effects of convection ( surface current ) to the interface curvature during the growth of gallium -indium- antimonide crystals, the formation of an elongated, or round crystal grain size as a function of the temperature and other factors, aluminum-copper alloys, and the inclusion or pushing out of the ceramic particles ( zirconium ) solidifying at interfaces metal ( aluminum or aluminum -nickel alloy ). If the particles are incorporated into the crystal structure, the result is often improved properties such as higher strength and elasticity. What conditions are favorable for incorporation, was also of interest. On Earth, such operations with organic substances and polystyrene beads were simulated.

As to each flight, there was also a plant for the production of protein crystals on board. The experiments are controlled from Earth (Tele Science), the astronauts just have to switch the complex. In this way reached approximately 5,000 images of crystallization processes in the soil. The crystals themselves were analyzed after returning to earth with special X-ray procedure. In the STS 78 of the receptor for the epidermal growth factor EGF have been synthesized and studied the crystallization of cyanine ingredients to develop improved anti-cancer drugs. Other samples contained RNA molecules, lysozyme, nuclear components, photosystem I, bacteriorhodopsin, the apoptosis - CcdB protein and sulfur-containing alcohol dehydrogenase. The studies will contribute to the development of new drugs and identify the most favorable conditions for the production of especially pure and regular protein crystals.

Disturbances in the crystal structure can occur here by the minimum accelerations caused by thruster firings, the braking effect of the upper atmosphere and the movements of the astronauts. Since you can not avoid, they are measured with the same three plants very carefully. SAMS recorded short-term accelerations, OARE longer lasting. Both experiments are standard features of the Shuttle. The Microgravity Measurement Assembly ( MMA) is a sensor network that is installed in the Spacelab and all accelerations measured reliably.

Among the routine experiments on board included the amateur radio system SAREX, the photographic documentation of special events on Earth (eg forest fire in Arizona ), and the testing of the new thermoregulatory system FES. Particular emphasis was the use of a video conferencing system could be made directly with the discussions between the astronauts and scientists on Earth on the progress and any changes of the experiments. The Columbia landed after a successful flight with only minor and detachable technical problems on the site of the Kennedy Space Center. The planned flight duration had been extended on request of the scientists on the ground one day.