Under an agreement signed in Washington this week, earth-bound medical researchers will soon be able to use the International Space Station as a laboratory to find answers to questions about human health. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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NASA and the National Institutes of Health have a memorandum of understanding that calls for NIH to develop medical experiments and studies, which NASA will carry to the space station where astronauts will do the actual lab work. NASA spokesman John Yembrick:

"Back in May we released a report to Congress that kind of outlined using the International Space Station as an environment in which we can conduct research with outside agencies, not only government agencies, but perhaps future private sector agencies using it as a laboratory in space."

Yembrick says NIH jumped at the chance and is first in line, because there are some medical studies that can or should only be done in zero gravity for best results.

"For example when you take people into space we find out that weightlessness causes bone and muscles to deteriorate, not unlike what happens to elderly people here on Earth, not much different than that, so what happens is we can go and basically use the platform of space to study the molecular basis of these effects."

Yembrick says other federal agencies and some private companies are already applying for this opportunity to use the space station's unique environment for their studies. NASA is planning at least 14 more shuttle flights to the space station, so there will be plenty of opportunities. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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