New NASA Mission: Sending Mice to Space

Because sending humans into space is not enough, scientists are now going to send mice too.

mice in space

A group of mice will soon do what you have not had the opportunity to ever do — going into space. They will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow, April 8, onboard the SpaceX resupply rocket.

Oh, but worry not, this is not from an episode of Pinky-and-the-Brain where mice are trying to take over the world. Rather, the aim is to subject the mice to the conditions of low gravity to find ways to protect humans from skeletal muscle atrophy.

Famous cartoon, Pinky and the Brain, trying to conquer the world and space.
Famous cartoon, Pinky and the Brain, trying to conquer the world and space.

The experiment, named Rodent Research-3, is meant to study the degeneration of bone and muscle tissues that results from staying in space over long periods of time, to understand the effects on muscle size and function under such circumstances, and to ultimately come up with ways to prevent the process.

You might be wondering as to why mice have been chosen for this ambitious mission. The scientists explain that mice are, in fact, quite similar (biologically) to us. Furthermore, their relatively shorter lifespans (an average of two years) will mean the experiments to be conducted will happen in a shorter time lapse.

The mice might be kept onboard the ISS for as long as 90 days. Half of them will be administered with a myostatin inhibitor so that their rate of muscle generation is slowed down. The other half will not be subjected to the treatment, and will thus constitute the control group. Another set of experiments will be performed on earth to compare the effects.

Muscle degeneration does not only happen to humans who have travelled to space. Rather, patients suffering from diseases like muscular dystrophy and ALS also go through this painful process. The study is, therefore, hoped to benefit these people as well. The lead investigator, Rosamund Smith, explains in a statement to Motherboard that the findings might provide more information into potential treatment techniques for patients of muscle atrophy.

The story has a sad ending for the mice, though. They will not be returning to Earth alive. Their dissected bodies will be making the journey back home so that the researchers can study the effects of the drugs on their system.

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