NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, is pictured near the Mice Drawer System (MDS) in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station.

Week in Geek - Mousetronaut edition

It looks like Stuart Little might make a terrible astronaut.

In 2009, NASA sent six mice to the International Space Station (on purpose, yes). Researchers in Belgium and Italy were looking to study how prolonged exposure to micro-gravity might affect the skin and physiology of the mice. Along with the six mice in space, six identical mice were kept on the ground in similar conditions as a control group. Both groups of mice were kept in the specially designed Mice Drawer System containment unit.

At three months, it was the longest space mission for rodents to date. The 91-day mission for the mice was equivalent to roughly seven human years. When the mice returned to earth, researchers compared their tissue samples with tissue samples from the grounded mice and found some interesting differences. The mice who had been in space had thinner skin and their hair growth cycle had been disrupted. You can read the full published paper here.

NASA has found that astronauts often have complaints of skin irritation and prolonged healing times for scratches while in orbit. So this research was the first step to try and better understand what might be happening at the microscopic level. Clearly more studies are needed, but these results hint at the myriad of difficulties humans will face on long duration space flights.

Here’s some more geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist