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Celebrating 50 Years: 1992

University of Calgary goes into space

The Discovery space shuttle mission STS-42 which launched on 22 January 1992 carried the International Microgravity Laboratory-1 as its primary payload. A University of Calgary experiment involving a team of five researchers was included as part of the Microgravity Laboratory’s program. The team, led by Howard Parsons, an associate professor in the Department of Paediatrics, included: Roy Krouse, a UofC physics professor; Roy Preshaw, a professor in the Department of Surgery; Jayne Thirsk, manager of nutrition and patient services at the Foothills Hospital; and Denise Bullock, a clinical dietician at the Foothills Hospital. Their study focused on measuring body metabolism and changes in body composition, and implemented the “doubly labelled water” technique to measure how much energy astronauts use in space.

The experiment was simple to perform: the astronauts had only to drink measured quantities of water labelled with non-radioactive isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen on the first day of the mission, and then collect samples of the shuttle’s non-labelled water supply and their own urine throughout the mission. Once back on Earth, the astronauts involved in the experiment again drank specific quantities of the labelled water. The Calgary researchers then analyzed the quantities of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in the samples collected, along with dietary logs kept during the mission, to calculate the quantities of the different molecules the astronauts ingested and how much passed out of their bodies. The results, when compared to measurements taken before the flight, would indicate the amount of energy each astronaut expended during the shuttle mission and would contribute to the microgravity lab’s studies into the effects of human adaptation to weightlessness.

Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space was a member of Discovery’s crew. As a payload specialist she was selected and trained to perform experiments in the Space-lab which contained the International Microgravity Laboratory-1. The microgravity program involved more than 200 scientists from 13 countries, including 19 Canadians. As a memento of the University of Calgary’s research participation in the STS-42 mission, Roberta Bondar presented the university with a signed plaque, containing pictures and crests from the mission, which now forms part of the University Archives’ memorabilia collection. Bondar received an Honorary Degree from the University of Calgary in June 1992.

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