Mice aren’t usually a very welcome sight in American homes. After all, a single house mouse can have five to 10 litters of five or six babies every year. A lone invader can turn into a full-blown infestation fast. But a group of mice will soon have a more noble mission to accept: becoming astronauts to help human space travelers deal with the complications of long-duration flights.
Instead of being subjected to traps, these mice have to endure the next few weeks in orbit. As part of NASA’s commercial cargo program, which works with private companies to ship materials to space stations, the mice will be sent along with supplies and other experiments to the International Space Station. This will be SpaceX’s 12th cargo delivery flight.
While the supplies, food, and spare parts will be considered important arrivals, those on the ground are eager to see whether these rodents can help solve some of the problems people have in space over long periods of time.
Michael Delp, a researcher at Florida State University, was essentially in charge of the micro-gravity mouse habitat.
“The research is really geared to address several biomedical issues that face astronauts with long-duration space flight,” Delp told WRLN.
The aforementioned issues include bone and muscle deterioration and fluid pressure changes in the brain, which can impact the ability to see. Once the mice return to Earth, they’ll be picked up by the Navy and will be transported to Loma Linda University in California. There, they’ll be examined to determine how their time in space impacted their physiology and whether it’s similar to the way in which their human counterparts are affected.
In addition to its mousier efforts, SpaceX also tries to make spaceflight more cost-effective and perhaps even sustainable. The company tries to refit and reuse all of their rockets to keep costs and production down. Thus far, two of SpaceX’s flown rockets have made second flights. While this craft will be mostly new, its legs have been flown before.
While it’s true that the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, scientists and other experts are hoping that this flight goes off without a hitch.