With manned missions to Mars inching ever closer, it is time scientists figured out if humans should go there at all.
Exposure to space can cause a whole host of different reactions by our bodies. While we have some available data on how human bodies react when subjected to living in space, there is little data about what would happen to earthlings if they were to be exposed to space for a significant period of time. Considering that manned Mars missions could begin as early as the first half of the next decade, and the fact that those missions would need years of travel time, it is definitely a good time to know if we should be making that journey so soon.
To this end, scientists have sent 20 laboratory mice to space aboard the Falcon 9 rocket that launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral this past Friday. Ten of these will return after a month, but the other 10 will stay in orbit for a period of 90 days, which equates to nine years in human time.
According to Futurism, the mice are part of Northwestern University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology (CSCB) study to find out what effects space will have on the mice’s circadian rhythms, which are basically biological processes that take place in 24-hour cycles. Apart from that, researchers also intend to find out if the bacteria living in and on the mice’s bodies are affected during space travel, while quite how the mice would deal with space-living at the psychological level is also part of the study.
During the entire time that the 10 mice will be in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS), their identical twins will be staying at a NASA research facility here on earth — and be subjected to the exact same conditions. Scientists believe it would give them insights into how living in space alters the expression of our genes.
We have already made some headway into this when NASA sent astronaut Scott Kelly to the ISS for a year, while his identical twin brother Mark stayed on earth. That study had concluded that seven percent of Scott Kelly’s genes had been affected by living in space. However, in that study, Mark was not subjected to the same conditions as his brother, meaning the conclusions of that study cannot be deemed definitive.
But the 10 mice are expected to give us better insight into how space actually affects living beings, while at the same time, its results will hold true for a longer space vacation.