To understand the potential early responses of human bone and the calcium endocrine system to spaceflight, we studied 8 healthy men, aged 35-44 years before, during, and after bed rest in a -6 degrees head-down tilt model for microgravity. Based on a novel single-dose labeling schedule, average rates of bone formation in the iliac crest were reduced in 6, unchanged in 1, and increased in 1 following the bed rest period. The decrease was greatest for subjects whose daily walking miles were highest (r = -0.762, p less than 0.05, n = 7). Before a measurable increase in ionized serum calcium the sixth bed rest day, there was increased excretion of urinary calcium and sodium, evident the first 2 bed-rest days and parallel for the entire week (r = 0.92, p less than 0.001). Reduced excretion of phosphorus and 3', 5' cyclic adenosine monophosphate on the first and second bed rest days was followed by an increase in serum phosphorus by the sixth bed rest day. Depressed serum concentrations of parathyroid hormone and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D were manifest by the sixth and seventh bed rest days. The similarity of the response of bone and the calcium endocrine system of healthy men after only 7 days to results of longer term bed rest studies emphasizes the responsiveness of the adult human skeleton to biomechanical stimuli induced by changes in activity and/or position.