Unlike other Apollo missions where operational time constraints principally made only preflight and postflight science research possible, inflight life sciences experiments were conducted on Apollo 17. The crew studied radiation exposure, microbial activity and the light flash phenomenon. Six experiments studying the effect of radiation on biological tissue were performed as a package under the title of Biological Cosmic Radiation Experiment (BIOCORE). These experiments helped scientists gain a better understanding of cosmic particle radiation hazards, a dangerous type of radiation frequently encountered on longer missions farther away from the protection of Earth. With the landing of the Apollo 17 mission, the Apollo program came to a close. It had provided a wealth of scientific information and ushered in a new era in human exploration.
Before and after Apollo 17, researchers studied several physiological systems. Investigators evaluated the crewmembers' cardiovascular response to exercise pre- and postflight, using a bicycle ergometer and other exercise equipment, and studied the response of the cardiovascular system to weightlessness using lower body negative pressure and passive stand tests.
The clinical aspects of crew health and safety were investigated by performing medical examinations and conducting inflight medical monitoring as evaluation methods. Investigators also studied musculoskeletal changes, clinical disorders in space due to imbalance between bone formation and resorption, inflight weight loss and inflight caloric intake. Another important aspect of crew health and safety is the protection against radiation, so one experiment focused on analyzing natural and man-made radiation encountered in space, with the goal of finding ways of limiting the astronauts' exposure to radiation. Vestibular system experiments not only aided researchers in gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that provide balance and coordination, but also contributed to alleviating the symptoms of space adaptation syndrome.
The endocrinology experiments sought to understand biochemical changes in crewmembers by studying the balance of fluids and electrolytes, regulation of calcium metabolism and the adaptation of metabolic processes to the space environment. Investigators also sought to determine the life support requirements during extravehicular activity (EVA) by studying metabolism and heat dissipation.
Scientists also utilized specific laboratory data to assess the health status of the astronauts prior to their commitment to space flight. This allowed them to detect and identify any alterations in the normal functions of the immunological and hematological systems which could be attributed to space flight exposure and to evaluate the significance of these changes relative to a person's continuing participation in space flight missions. Biochemistry data, when integrated with the data obtained from a complete history and physical examination of each crewmember, permitted an objective assessment of crew physical status.
The detection of potentially pathogenic microorganisms was attempted, so that associated medical problems could be identified early and preventive measures could be established. These objectives included the identification of medically important microorganisms recovered from ill crew members to aid in diagnosis and treatment.
One interesting experiment conducted during this mission and on several other Apollo flights, called the Apollo Light Flash Investigation, investigated reports by crewmembers since the beginning of the space program of seeing short-lived bright spots or light flashes while in a dark environment during space flight. It was suspected, and later deduced, that the light flash phenomenon was produced by cosmic radiation penetrating and stimulating the optic nerve.