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The Menagerie

By on May 23rd, 2013

Maybe it’s just me, but this launch a few weeks ago sounds like some weird new remake of Incredible Journey, or perhaps a new Animal Planet sitcom. From Discover:

a crew of geckoes, forty-five mice, eight Mongolian gerbils, fish, snails, and plant seedlings were rocket launched on the Bion M1 into space, for the longest animal space experiment to date, a round trip lasting thirty days. The Russian spacecraft will relay information to scientists on the ground interested in studying the health effects of space on the animals.

There is no truth to the rumor that they were all dressed in little Star Trek uniforms, which would just be weird. However, the selection process for these critters is not all that removed from that for human astronauts (I can envision a bizarre remake of The Right Stuff), and the animals must be disposed to sociability, as they generally have to get along with each other for the duration of the journey. The idea is to take a “whole organism” look at how zero gravity and other rigors of space travel, like radiation, affect a variety of biological systems, from sperm motility to cartilage breakdown to potential motor disorders, and more. Ultimately, the goal is to translate these findings to the potential effects of long-term spaceflight on humans. And now it’s time to leave the capsule, if they dare:

Mounted on the exterior of the spacecraft are containers that will open in orbit to explore whether peptides and nucleotides get synthesized in open space, and the effects of the vacuum of space on plant seeds.

A space oddity indeed.