NASA, the US space agency has developed high-tech cages that will carry rodents to the International Space Station (ISS). The rodents will be examined by researchers in order to know the micro-gravitational effects on mammalian physiology.
The Rodent Habitat modules will be launched in August 2014 in an unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, according to the news release.
Rodent Habitat has been constructed at the NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and is designed to transport rodents to the space station and also for their durable accommodation.
The new module consists of a transport unit that fits inside the stacks in the Dragon spacecraft's pressurized cargo section. It also has an access module that allows rodents to move from the transporter to the ISS rodent habitat without allowing any of the mice to escape and shelter themselves behind the control panels.
Each of the habitat modules accommodates six rats or 10 mice with all the basic requirements for a comfortable living such as food, water, fresh air and lighting.
The module also allows monitoring of the environmental conditions such as temperature known as 'data downlink capability'.
The crew members in the space station along with scientists and veterinarians on the ground with the help of visible light and infrared video system can monitor the overall health and behavior of the rodents on a daily basis.
Since the physiology of rodents are similar to that of the humans, studying the rodent models may aid in understanding diseases that may occur or develop in humans over the years or decades.
Researchers will study rodents to understand how microgravity affects human body systems such as cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, musculoskeletal, reproductive, nervous, and sensorimotor and to find out what genetic, cellular and molecular mechanisms are responsible for any changes related to spaceflight.
Rodents in space will also be studied during different developmental stages of life. They are also important in studying the development countermeasures - drugs or devices and procedures, in order to protect health during spaceflight.
"Studies that use different genetic strains of rodents will help researchers pinpoint the roles played by specific genes in gravity sensing and responses," said Ruth Globus, Rodent Research Project scientist and researcher in the Space Biosciences Division at Ames.
The maiden trip of the rodent research system is set to launch on board the SpaceX-4 in 2014. The aim of the first mission is to validate system performance and for the ISS crew to reveal critical research operations.
The crew will also carry out Rodent Research-1 study, which is a dual investigation, first for NASA to validate the hardware, while the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) helps the first commercial research. Focus will be on experiments on the biological mechanisms of muscle tissue maintenance and loss. The vital goal of this research is to create new treatments for disorders of the muscle-waste.
The second rodent research mission is scheduled onboard SpaceX-6 in 2014.