From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:

ERAL––Fifteen two-year-old
Oriental newts and 80 snails were
brought aboard the Russian space station
Mir on May 18, to resume neurological
studies of the effects of
weightlessness on anatomy that were
disrupted in February when eight
newts died during their return to earth
aboard a cargo shuttle.
The newts and snails are to
remain in orbit until August––if they
endure that long.
Similar work undertaken by
the 16-day, $99 million “Neurolab”
flight of the NASA space shuttle
Columbia during April and early May
brought mostly unplanned early
deaths of the specimens. The casualties
might have contributed to
NASA’s May 5 announcement that
the Neurolab would not fly a second
time in August, as had been tentatively

Reportedly taking more
animals into space in one mission
than ever previously orbited, Neurolab
lifted off with 1,514 cricket eggs,
233 swordtail fish, four oyster toadfish
with electrodes in their heads, 18
pregnant mice, 135 snails, and 152
rats, of whom 96 were newborns and
24 had temperature and heart rate
sensors attached to their skulls.
The mice and cricket eggs
aboard were backup contingents.
Those originally loaded were
replaced before lift-off when mechanical
problems caused a 24-hour delay
of the launch. The mission plan
called for all of the mice embryos to
develop and all of the cricket eggs to
hatch during spaceflight, without
ever experiencing gravity.
The first casualty of the
flight came, apparently, when a bat
landed on the Columbia’s external
fuel tank late in the countdown. The
bat tried to escape when the booster
rockets ignited, launch director Dave
King said, but was probably burned.
The 26-experiment Neurolab
program began a day later with
the abortion of nine mouse pregnancies,
after which the anesthetized
mothers were killed. The same day,
space doctors David Williams and
Jay Buckey Jr. killed and removed
the brains of four rats. All 18 mice
and 29 rats were killed and dissected
before the flight was over, mostly to
investigate the effects of gravity loss
on brain development.
In addition, 55 of the 96
baby rats died, 52 from maternal
neglect. Three others were euthanized.
The problem, flight veterinarian
Richard Linnehan speculated,
was that the baby rats couldn’t keep
their positions at adult females’ nipples
in order to nurse. Linnehan suggested
changes in the design of the rat
cages to keep the rats in more intimate
Linnehan, the medical doctors,
and payload specialist Jim
Pawelczyk managed to save the
remaining rats for killing and dissection
as scheduled after landing.
Linnehan refused an April
31 ground control order to kill an
adult male rat who somehow managed
to shake free of his electrode
cap. After applying ointment to the
wound, Linnehan told ground control,
“He’s a happy, healthy, goodlooking
rat at this point.”
“My guess is he may be
attached to this guy. I don’t blame
him,” NASA chief veterinarian
Joseph Bielitzki told Associated Press
aerospace writer Marcia Dunn.
The major animal research
finding in flight was the observation
that newborn rats, like all other
mammals tested in space, tend to
propel themselves by using their front
limbs, making little use of their hind
Seven Neurolab experiments
were undertaken on the astronauts
themselves, but were relatively
painless, involving catching a springpropelled
ball and sitting in a rotating
chair while a camera tracked their eye
motion. They also tested the hormonal
drug melatonin to see if it might
remedy the sleeplessness usually
afflicting space travelers. The most
difficult experiment on the humans
involved sticking a tiny needle into an
obscure nerve behind the knee, taking
from 10 to 40 minutes per astronaut
to do.

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