These mice are part of a study at the Northwestern University sleep and Physical Biology Center. Their plan is to let 10 mice stay at the international space station for a record 90 days, and the other 10 will return to earth 30 days later. Researchers will study the effects of space environment on the biological cycle of mice, biological processes that occur within 24 hours, microbes and other physiological processes.
The new study builds on another study by researchers at the Center for Sleep and Physiology at Northwestern University: the twins study at NASA. In the study, astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year on the International Space Station, while his twin brother Mark, also an astronaut, stayed on Earth as a "comparison group." Earlier this year, NASA reported preliminary results of the study, noting that Scott's time in space affected 7 percent of gene expression.
The 20 mice were sent to the international space station. They also had "twin brothers and sisters" - to stay in NASA's research facility on earth. There, they will enjoy the same treatment as "brothers and sisters" at the International Space Station - the same light, temperature and activity, only three days later.
Although there is a biological difference between people and mice, researchers hope that almost exactly the same environment will provide more accurate results than twin studies on the impact of the space environment on the body. After all, although Scott's life on the international space station is relatively limited, Mark's life on the earth is much more free, and some of his activities will affect the results of the study.
We have a certain understanding of the risk factors in space life - such as decline in vision, cancer, and mental illness, but we do not know how long it will have to affect the body in space. In view of the fact that the mission of manned landing on Mars will last for several years, we need to solve this problem before carrying out such a task.
Although 90 days do not seem to be long, it is equivalent to 90 years of human life for mice. Therefore, to understand our long-term impact in space, white mice may be the key.