Also found in: Dictionary, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
Spacelab(spayss -lab) A reusable space laboratory that was carried into Earth orbit as a payload aboard several of NASA's space shuttle missions between 1983 and 1998, and in which a team of scientists, known as payload specialists, were able to oversee or take part in short-term experiments devoted to science and technology. It remained in the cargo bay of the shuttle during an orbital flight. It was designed and constructed by ESA, and delivered to NASA in 1980. There were two basic sections in Spacelab: a long or short pressurized module in which the payload specialists could operate the experiments on board, and up to three unpressurized U-shaped ‘pallets' or platforms on which instruments could be directly exposed to space. A pressurized tube connected the module to the shuttle's living quarters. Some Spacelab missions used only the pallets, together with a services module.
The first mission, Spacelab–1, was launched in Nov. 1983 and flew 72 experiments from ESA countries, the USA, Japan, and Canada, mainly devoted to human physiology and materials sciences. Spacelab–3, in Apr. 1985, had many microgravity experiments. Spacelab–2, in July 1985, was largely an astronomical mission; four telescopes were used on an ultraprecise pallet-mounted instrument-pointing system (IPS), which was also used in the Astro missions in Dec. 1990 and Nov. 1995. A joint German/ESA mission in Oct. 1985, Spacelab D1, flew microgravity and life-sciences experiments. There followed several dedicated series of missions: to the life sciences, starting with SLS–1 in June 1991; to microgravity, starting with IML–1 (the International Microgravity Laboratory) in Jan. 1992; and to atmospheric studies, with the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS–1) in Apr. 1992. The year 1992 also saw the Spacelab-J mission, a NASA collaboration with the Japanese space agency NASDA. This mission carried 34 US and Japanese experiments devoted to the life sciences and materials science. A joint US-Russian mission, Spacelab-Mir (Jun–Jul 1995) was carried aboard the space shuttle on a flight to the Mir space station, where life-sciences studies were carried out, including an evaluation of the Russian science research program, which sought to counter the effects of long stays in space. A final multinational Spacelab mission, designated Neurolab and devoted to a study of the nervous system in microgravity, was flown during April and May 1998.