NASA is planning to ship a team of rats to space in a new mission. The mission to the International Space Station could happen as early as this year.
Rats were chosen over mice for the mission because the larger rodents have neurocognitive functioning that mirrors humans.
The new team of space rat-stronauts will spend between 30 to 90 days in space. "This will allow animals to be studied for longer period of time on space station missions," Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for the space station, said in a press conference.
Rats have traveled to space before, but the mission lasted two weeks tops. According to Robinson, experiments on the station can take between 15 minutes to 140 hours.
The amount of time the rats spend in space depends of the schedule of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The SpaceX Dragon takes supplies to the space station and makes a round trip to Earth, but spends some time in the ocean. While the rats might enjoy traveling to outer space, being under water might be comfortable for the rodents.
Sending the rat-stronaunts to space is just one of the ways the space station is just one of the ways the space industry is innovating. Investigators want to explore more experiential options for life sciences on the station, which includes other living organisms in an attempt to understand the effects of microgravity.
NASA plan on flying fruit flies to the station. Fruit flies live short lives, which allow researchers to analyze changes over more than one generation. 700 of known genes for human disease are present in the flies. "The space station is the perfect laboratory for these long-term types of study experiments," Marshall Porterfield, director of the space life and physical sciences division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C says.
Recently, NASA lunched a "Veggie" experiment, to see if lettuce and other plants could be grown in space for future colonization. The experiment, Veg-01 experiment, is currently in operational orbit after being shipped to the space station with SpaceX Dragon in April.
Astronauts are also conducting experiments related to the human body in space. The XSENS ForceShoe, for example, includes using sensors to calculate how much "loading" the astronauts put on their feet when exercising. Astronauts try to stimulate Earth's gravity as closely as possible when they are on the treadmill or lighting weights.
The current space station exercise equipment is still missing the proper tools to accurately take measurements. "We have that next generation of hardware, but the force measurement that we had hoped to get ... isn't winding up working," Robinson says. They hope the sensors on the ForceShoe will be able to send data to investigators.
These are just some examples of the limitless options of experimenting that NASA conducts in space for the sake of science. There are currently about 200 experiments being conducted on Expedition 40 now.