Jun 25, 2019 | Updated: 07:39 AM EDT

NASA Sends Mice on a Mission in Space

Apr 15, 2019 10:20 AM EDT

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Mice aboard the International Space Station
(Photo : NASA)
Rodent habitat modules designed by NASA for experiment on microgravity
(Photo : Image from Wikimedia Commons)

As part of an experiment, NASA sent 20 female mice to the International Space Station with the goal of observing their reaction to microgravity-both short and long term-and then further learning about how both humans and animals will possibly adapt to a different environment in space. NASA used mice aged 16 and 32 weeks as a sample population. The mice were shown to the rodent habitat in the ISS for a period of 37 days, over which, they were observed to have adapted soundly. All the mice were housed in a special rodent habitat module, equipped with cameras. It looked like a simple caged box but specially designed for this experiment.

On the first days, the mice were fidgety and noticeably still adjusting to the change in environment. They still, however, went on about their usual "routine"-feeding, grooming, huddling, and interacting with each other. A week after the first day, the younger mice were observed to be more active and more mobile than the others. And then in as short as ten days into the experiment, they were seen to be running around in circles; well, not exactly perfect circles, but they would use their hind legs or their tails to push their selves, propel, and navigate around their habitat in space.

This behavior quickly accelerated the next day into full circular laps as shown on a video taken by NASA. They seemed to be almost floating, demonstrating microgravity and weightlessness in space, and how these can affect certain activities of the rodents, hence of humans as well. "The rodents quickly adapted to their new weightless circumstances, for example by anchoring themselves to the habitat walls with their hind limbs or tails and stretching out their bodies. This pose was similar to mice on Earth standing up on their back legs to explore their environment," says April Ronca, a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center and lead author of the paper.

 

This experiment has yielded very successful results seeing as how fast the mice were able to adapt to microgravity. The one thing to consider here is the fact that 37 days is, of course, a long period of time for mice, but not for humans. With this success, however, it is worthy to mention that this has not been the first time that NASA has sent rodents to the ISS for experimentation. They have previously done one on the effects of microgravity in aging and progression of diseases.

While NASA doing their best to search for a new habitat may sound appealing, we still have a long way to go and a lot of mice missions to initiate.

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