The NASA Space Shuttle program may have ended, but its hardware which enabled rodent research in space lives on into the International Space Station and other flight vehicles. New research published by NASA in the Nature Partner Journal: Microgravity tested if Animal Enclosure Module hardware, which facilitates rat and mouse experiments in space, could accommodate longer stays than their rated 20-day flight window. Following minor modifications to feeding system, the enclosures supported ground-based 35-day rat and mouse experiments, and suggested no ill effects for animal health or astronaut comfort. These results enabled further rodent research in current and future NASA spaceflight experiments.
Ground data collected at the NASA Ames Research Center validated the use of Shuttle-Era rodent habitat hardware for an extended operational period, enabling its use on the International Space Station and other flight vehicles. The research, titled “Evaluation of rodent spaceflight in the NASA animal enclosure module for an extended operational period (up to 35 days),” was recently published in Nature Partner Journal: Microgravity, an open source journal. The
manuscript reports that shuttle-era rodent housing tolerates longer habitation than previously expected, allowing animal experiments on the International Space Station and other spaceflight vehicles.
Eric Moyer (Blue Marble Space Young Scientist Program participant and NASA Space Biosciences researcher) and colleagues tested whether existing Shuttle-era animal enclosures, which facilitates rat and mouse experiments in space, could accommodate longer stays than their rated 20-day flight window. They found that with minor modifications to feeding hardware, the enclosures handled 35-day rat and mouse experiments, with no ill effects for animal health (e.g, carbon dioxide buildup) or astronaut comfort (e.g, smell confinement). Animals showed slight differences in organ mass compared with controls, but blood panels returned within the normal ranges. This work enabled extended animal experiments on the International Space Station and other flight vehicles, experiments which examine crucial study areas for future space exploration such as bone and muscle degradation in mammals subjected to extended space exposure.