Facebook Twitter



The seven astronauts aboard shuttle Columbia checked into their space clinic Friday for a second day of probing medical tests which NASA hopes will pave the way for longer space missions.

Four of the shuttle crew faced another day of being poked with needles and strapped into contraptions designed to study the way their bodies have been affected by space since they blasted off Thursday.Mission control woke the astronauts Friday with "Free Falling," a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a favorite of shuttle commander Tom Henricks.

"We're looking forward to another wonderful day of falling around the Earth and gathering data," radioed Henricks.

Joining Henricks were pilot Kevin Kregel and mission specialists Susan Helms, Rick Linnehan and Chuck Brady. Also on board were two scientists, Canadian Bob Thirsk, a medical doctor, and Frenchman Jean-Jacques Favier, a specialist in microgravity research.

The astronauts are settling in for a long stay in space. NASA hoped Columbia's power supplies would allow a 17-day mission, which would break the record for the longest shuttle flight by about seven hours.

"We'll get a paycheck in space," Hendricks said when reminded he would be off Earth for more than a half-month.

The astronauts' program of medical and microgravity research is taking place in a European-built laboratory module the size of a small bus in the shuttle's cargo bay. About $100 million of the $138 million cost of the science is being paid for by NASA's partners in Europe and Canada.

NASA officials admit that after 35 years of manned space flight they still know little about the long-term effects of the space environment on the human body.

Previous missions have documented bone and muscle loss and shifts in body fluids that make some astronauts faint on return to Earth. Space sickness, a form of nausea akin to sea sickness, afflicts about three-quarters of all space travelers for their first few days in orbit.