Yup, a team of six mice are living in style at the International Space station as part of an Italian study investigating the effects of bone loss in space.
Julie Robinson, NASA’s space station program scientist says this is the first time that rodents will be actually staying at the space station and for a period of three months nonetheless. Because although a good number mice have already taken joyrides into space (lucky them), they’ve all stayed aboard the shuttles and returning back to Earth with it. The longest time that a mouse stayed in space was about 30 days, cruising in space in an unmanned satellite.
The special experiment drawer where the mice will be checking in was delivered to the station by the astronauts aboard Discovery which docked late Sunday.
Referring to the cage, Joe Delai, Discovery’s payload manager says, “Basically, it’s a little hotel. They have a room and place to eat and sleep.”
What are the amenities the little space guests are enjoying?
“Each mouse is in its own little compartment,” Robinson told SPACE.com. “The compartments have screens around them so the mice can hold on with their feet so that they’re in control of their environment…so they’re not stressed out.”
The astronauts will be making sure that the mice experience a normal environment with a system that turns on lights to simulate day and night. The little critters will be getting room service too! They will be getting their food through automated systems which can be refilled when needed.
So why exactly are they up there? Three of the six mice have a special gene that combat osteoporosis, a condition that leads to bone loss.
If the mice with the special gene suffer less bone loss than those without, then compared to the control group (a similar group of six mice are being studied on Earth as control group), the results may lead to better treatment for osteoporosis on Earth. It can also help protect astronauts who routinely lose bone and muscle mass because of prolonged exposure to microgravity.
The space mice, along with Astronaut Nicole Stott who arrived at the space station on board the Discovery, will all be hitching a ride back to Earth aboard a different shuttle in November.