Shuttle mission STS-95 was a nine-day multidisciplinary research mission. The crew conducted an array of experiments in the space environment, including commercial and government research in astronomy, biology, biotechnology, materials processing, fluid physics, space technology and medical science. Experiments were sponsored by several different nations and institutions in addition to NASA, including the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Japan's National Space and Development Agency (NASDA).
Life sciences research included assessments of the effects of microgravity on balance and perception in humans and animals in space, immune system changes in microgravity and on Earth, the effects of microgravity on bone, muscle and the body's metabolic rates, cardiovascular processes, and the potential use of a naturally occurring substance known as melatonin as a sleep aid.
Two investigations focused on the effects of microgravity on plant development, Biological Research in a Canister-13 (BRIC-13) and BRIC-PEG/C. The first, Gravitational Effects on Embryogenesis in Poaceae (BRIC-13), examined the developing seed embryos of orchard grass. The second, Gravity Effects on Seedling Morphogenesis (BRIC-PEG/C) investigated the structure of germinating cucumber seedlings. Together, these experiments added to the previously acquired information on plant development, growth and behavior in space.
Microgravity research explored fluid flow of heated liquids in a microgravity environment, assessed the effects of microgravity on fine particles suspended in fluids (colloidal suspensions), gained new insights into atomic behavior and investigated the structure and function of proteins. Sensor technology was also used to detect vibration effects on payloads.
Commercial researchers used the microgravity environment to explore the development of improved optical properties in ultralight materials for applications such as specialized windows. Researchers conducted protein crystal growth in microgravity for enhanced understanding of proteins linked to disease; the results of the research will help to develop better drug countermeasures. Other commercial microgravity research explored improved ways to encapsulate drugs to provide a more directed therapy against tumors. Plant research activities in microgravity ranged from efforts to develop stronger and more productive crop strains to improvement of natural pharmaceutical products from plant compounds. Several flight hardware units on this mission were developed and built entirely by the private sector.
Four major payloads were carried in Discovery's cargo bay. The Spartan 201-5 spacecraft free-flyer investigated physical conditions and processes of the hot outer layers of the Sun's atmosphere and gathered measurements on this atmosphere and solar wind. These observations will help scientists better understand the Sun's influence, which can affect satellites, as well as communications and power distribution systems on Earth.
A second space science payload, the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, flew to validate key technologies and equipment to be installed during the next Hubble servicing mission in the year 2000. Included was a cryogenic cooling system to cool and extend the life of the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrograph, the Hubble Space Telescope 486 computer to test its susceptibility to radiation, a solid-state recorder to replace one currently on Hubble, and other equipment tests.
Two additional science payloads were flown on STS-95, including the cryogenic thermal storage unit, which contained a set of thermal control components that were tested in space. The final major payload was the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker (IEH-3) payload that had a number of experiments, ranging from astronomical telescopes and communications experiments to Get Away Special (GAS) student experiments examining slime in space and the effects of space on the life cycle of the American cockroach.
STS-95 landed on November 7, 1998, at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The mission represented a diversity of science and commercial research efforts, as well as interagency and international collaboration, that will ultimately be the hallmark of the International Space Station.