Thousands of Spineless Critters have been Sent to Space

On June 3, a SpaceX Dragon Reconstruction spacecraft sent to the International Space Station carrying three tons of scientific tests as well as new solar arrays and other cargo for astronauts. It expected to dock autonomously with the space station on June 5. Among the many experiments on board, a few animal model experiments aim, better understand how animals, including humans, adapt to space.

Cell Science-04 will keep an eye on the almost inseparable water bears to work on how these incredible microscopic critics can survive incredibly stressful situations. Instead of the UMAMI (understanding of microgravity on animal-microbial interactions) experiments, 128 baby bobtail squids will used to study the symbiotic relationship with their bacteria.

Molecule Muscle Test 2 explores how muscle loss occurs at microgravity using worm C elegans instead. These and many other tests will help astronauts improve ways to keep astronauts healthy – but the benefits will be found on Earth, as the success of treatments based on such research can help people with a variety of conditions. Worms, which are about 1 mm (0.03in) in size, are to share the same biological characteristics as humans.

They are also affecting by biological changes caused by living in space – including changes in muscle mass and the ability to use energy. Bethany Phillips, an associate professor of clinical, metabolic and molecular physics at the university, said the study would have an impact not only on astronauts, but also on different conditions on Earth.

“There have been concerns since the beginning of the space age that space travel could be detrimental to astronauts,” he said. Tim Etheridge, an associate professor of integrated physiology at the University of Exeter, said the new data from the experiment “could lay the groundwork for sending people safely to deeper places on long-term missions.” Science Minister Amanda Solloway said, “Surprisingly, sending worms into space can improve our health and help us live longer, and I’m glad that UK researchers are leading this effort.”