At the next International Space Station replenishment mission, the Space X Dragon will bring coffee, a robot and a range of rodent passengers to help scientists understand biology in space. The lab mice help researchers investigate how weightlessness affects biological processes such as circadian rhythms and microbiomas. "Since a trip to and from Mars is expected to take several years, we need to find out how the microbiota of the gut could change in weightlessness over long periods of time," said Fred Turek, director of the Northwestern Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology
The space mice team consists of 10 identical siblings from two different mouse families. Half of them will spend 90 days in orbit while the other half will live in a NASA simulator that "replaces the minute-minute conditions – but with gravity – in the space station" microbial trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in human guts – in space, and how circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep and activity patterns could play a role.
"It is important to understand how space travel can affect the circadian system, as it coordinates so many biological processes," explains Martha Vitaternna, co-investigator of the study. "The effort of taking off, the lack of gravity and the limited way of life contribute to the stress of life in space, and the key to adaptation could be the body's ability to maintain harmony across the systems."
The study of the mice is analogous to the human twin project "Year in Space", conducted in 2015-2016, in which scientists compared astrological Scott Kelly's space year data with his Earth-based, identical twin brother Mark , Mouse research, combined with the results of the Twins study, will help scientists understand what weightlessness means to our bodies, and perhaps even help improve human health on Earth.
(via Northwestern University)