NASA’s enclosures for space rats are being updated for the first time in 31 years. And just in time too. Rodent research in zero gravity is incredibly important for planning out long distance missions to places like Mars.
Researchers study rodents in space to understand better how microgravity affects various body systems—cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive and sensorimotor—and to discover what cellular, genetic and molecular mechanisms are responsible for spaceflight-induced changes. Researchers can apply knowledge of these mechanisms to develop ways to prevent or treat adverse effects of spaceflight.
The new studies conducted in these enclosures will be much longer than ones done in the past. Rodent research using the older modules lasted between four and eighteen days, but new, longer term studies will last for up to six months. The new habitats will be able to hold either 6 rats or 10 mice. Because the rodents will be in zero gravity, both the floors and walls will be equipped with grids that they can grip onto to move around the enclosure.
The new enclosures are expected to be used for the first time on Space X-4, which will launch sometime after August 1, 2014.