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The STS-8 mission was the third flight for the Challenger and the first mission with a night launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and a night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. This mission was the first flight for Dr. Thornton as well as the first flight for Dr. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., the first African-American astronaut to fly in space. The mission launched on August 30 and landed on September 5, 1983. The crew consisted of Commander Richard H. Truly, Pilot Daniel C. Brandenstein, and Mission Specialists Dr. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Dale A. Gardner, and Dr. Thornton.

Dr. Thornton was in charge of the first animal payload in space; a small self-contained cage containing six rats. The Animal Enclosure Module (AEM) was being flight tested for a future Shuttle Students Involvement Project (SSIP) therefore no animal experiments were conducted. The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the AEM was capable of supporting healthy rats in orbit without compromising the health and comfort of either astronaut or rat. The objective for the SSIP for STS-8 was to determine whether or not biofeedback training learned in one-g on Earth could be successfully implemented in zero-g. Dr. Thornton also was the first to measure the human nervous system in space. He was given pre-flight training on biofeedback techniques and measured his skin surface temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response, and muscle activity during four 15-minute periods in-flight.

He also conducted medical tests to better understand the biophysical effects of spaceflight and to collect data on the several physiological changes that are associated with Space Adaptation Syndrome. “It’s not like seasickness, there’s no sweating, little nausea, some pallor, and lots of sudden vomiting.” One of the interesting trends that Dr. Thornton noted was that people who were susceptible to motion sickness on Earth frequently did not “get it in space, and vice versa. It was not uncommon for one of these fighter pilots who [could] do rolls and loops and feel fine to get a bad case in space.”


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