Smooth Flight

While the science crew - Hieb, Chiao, Thomas and Mukai - focused on more than six dozen experiments in the Spacelab module during their shifts, Cabana, Halsell and Walz spent their time nursing Columbia's systems as she sailed virtually trouble-free through her 17th mission. One of only a handful of minor problems - a jammed solid-waste compactor piston on the toilet - was quickly fixed by Halsell. The importance of Japanese involvement on the mission, and Mukai's presence, led to a number of calls from dignitaries, including Vice Prime Minister Yohei Kono, NASDA President Masato Yamano and Science and Technology Minister Makiko Tanaka.

It was by now becoming common practice on two-week EDO missions to give each crew member two half-days off duty. The astronauts also participated in 45-minute-long LBNP runs with the cylindrical 'trouser suit' designed to pull fluids into their legs as a potential countermeasure against the punishing onset of return to terrestrial gravity. In general, the device worked well, with the exception of a problem experienced by Mukai when she could not get the apparatus to seal properly around her waist; she later resolved this by wrapping padding around her waist to create a tighter seal.

Cabana and Halsell spent time with the PILOT landing trainer, which helped to sharpen their flying skills after two weeks in the microgravity environment, and they also participated in a series of cognitive tests with the Performance Assessment Workstation (PAWS). This determined their ability to perform operational tasks at different stages of a mission, in order that researchers could better distinguish between the effects of microgravity or fatigue on their performance. It was hoped that this would allow mission planners to reschedule tasks to times when an astronaut's performance was optimum and would be particularly beneficial on long-haul space station flights.

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