The primary payload on board STS-50 was the U. S. Microgravity Laboratory -1 (USML-1) flown in a Spacelab modular research laboratory within the Shuttle orbiter's cargo bay. The laboratory is pressurized so astronauts can work in a laboratory environment in their shirt sleeves rather than bulky spacesuits. USML-1 brought together representatives from academia, industry and the government to study basic scientific questions and gain new knowledge in materials science, biotechnology, combustion science, and the physics of fluids and the way energy and mass are transported within them. In addition, USML experiments were conducted on nutrient and water transport for growing food in space, on the behavior of fire in low-gravity and on the effects of long-term space travel on humans.
Life sciences experiments performed during the STS-50 mission, but not as a part of the USML-1 payload were those classified as Detailed Supplementary Objectives (DSOs). A DSO is a NASA-sponsored investigation performed by Space Shuttle crewmembers, who also serve as test subjects. These studies are designed to require minimal crew time, power and stowage. Biomedical DSOs focus on operational concerns, including space motion sickness, cardiovascular deconditioning, muscle loss, changes in coordination and balance strategies, radiation exposure, pharmacokinetics and changes in the body's biochemistry.
The crew performed several ongoing medical investigations during the flight for the Extended Duration Orbiter Medical Project as well. This research was aimed at developing countermeasures to the effects of prolonged exposure to weightlessness on the human physique.
Other payloads carried on board STS-50 were the Investigations into Polymer Membrane Processing experiment, the Ultraviolet Plume Instrument, and the Space Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment-II (SAREX-II). SAREX-II was an experiment that allowed crewmembers to contact ham radio operators worldwide and conduct question-and-answer sessions with various schools.
Columbia landed on July 9, 1992 at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Landing was diverted to KSC due to bad weather at the primary landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in California.