The Physiology NASA Lab had a long and productive history researching the effects of microgravity on the human respiratory system. Doing research in microgravity was the dream of Division of Physiology chief Dr. John West, who had always been interested in the lung in extreme environments, and particularly on the effect of gravity on the lung. He was part of Edmund Hillary's "Silver Hut" physiology research expedition to Mt. Everest, and led the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest in 1981, during which the first physiological measurements on the summit were made. Studying the lung in the absence of gravity was next, and led to more than 20 years of spaceflight and ground-based parabolic flight experiments done with NASA.
The lab's spaceflight research began with the SpaceLab Life Sciences experiments aboard STS-40 and STS-58. UCSD's ALFE (Astronaut Lung Function Experiment) system was in the Spacelab, a reusable laboratory located in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle. The system took the astronaut users through setup, calibration, and a battery of lung function tests performed at various times during each flight. ALFE's work continued with the Life and Microgravity Sciences flight STS-78 and the Neurolab experiment aboard STS-90. The NASA Lab was part of the "Sleep Team" on the STS-95 mission monitoring the sleep of the astronauts, including John Glenn.
The lab's spaceflight research culminated with the PuFF (Pulmonary Function in Flight) experiment aboard the International Space Station, which was on board from 2001 to 2003, and used by three successive increment crews over those two years. Much like ALFE the PuFF experiment consisted of a variety of lung function tests which the astronauts performed themselves.
Closer to the ground, the NASA Lab was active conducting an array of experiments over many years on NASA's Reduced Gravity Aircraft. There were also related experiments done back at UCSD, often in parallel with those flying high above the Earth.
Relatively recent advances in microcomputer technology have also allowed investigators to begin to build complex computer models of the human lung. These models allow us to simulate the effects of gravity on the lung and discover new and potentially exciting ways to study those effects without ever leaving our laboratories.