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Astronauts Praise Exotic Crystal, Prepare For Super Bowl TV Appearance

January 26, 1992

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Discovery’s astronauts on Sunday praised development of a ruby-colored crystal that eventually could be used to monitor radiation. They also saw experimental fruit flies drop like, well, flies.

The crew was conserving electricity so well that NASA was considering extending the seven-day flight to collect extra science data. Mission managers will decide Monday whether to keep Discovery up until Thursday, a day longer than planned.

Scientists said most of the 480 flies aboard the space shuttle for a weightlessness experiment were killed by sterilizing chemicals accidentally left on the insect containers.

Astronaut David Hilmers reported that a few of the flies were still alive in their cages, some were in their ″death throes″ and most had met their unscheduled end.

″It looks like they were having their last meal as they finally met their maker,″ Hilmers said.

NASA mission scientist Robert Snyder had expected few of the flies to survive the seven-day mission. Before they died, some laid eggs that will be studied after the research mission ends, he said.

″It’s a disappointment for everybody. We would have preferred to have flying flies,″ the European Space Agency’s Claude Brillouet, a project scientist, said Saturday.

A similar number of flies in a control group on Earth also died.

The flies have been the only major casualties since Discovery blasted off Wednesday with 72 million roundworms, 3,942 stick insects, slime mold, fetal mouse bones, lentil roots, yeast, bacteria, oat and wheat seedlings, hamster kidney cells and human blood cells.

″Everything is just going very well with some minor glitches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many smiling scientists in one place,″ said mission manager Robert McBrayer.

The progress of other experiments thrilled scientists on Earth. Those include cultivation of a mercury iodide crystal, which if perfected, could be used in sensitive X-ray and gamma ray detectors for telescopes, medical equipment and monitoring devices at nuclear power plants.

The seven-member crew had some problems getting the clear red crystal to grow properly when the experiment began Thursday. But by Sunday, it was ″a good-looking crystal,″ said astronaut Ulf Merbold, a German physicist.

Mercury iodide crystals are difficult to grow on Earth because they are so fragile they can be crushed by their own weight.

Another experiment studied the effects of low gravity on slime mold cells, research that could shed light on man’s ability to withstand life on a space station.

The astronauts plan to make a television appearance during the Super Bowl pre-game show Sunday. CBS Sports commentators Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw will chat with the crew via a TV hookup arranged by NASA. Crew members may toss a coin in weightlessness.

Mission Control will provide score updates for the crew; the game won’t be broadcast aboard Discovery.

″They don’t get the day off to listen to the Super Bowl,″ said flight director Randy Stone.

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